Stephanie Harris said she will never forget the man who shot and killed James Warren Lane 28 years ago in the morning early hours in north Tulsa. Harris vividly remembers the man was “short,” around 5’5″ and had a slim build. His hair was short and he was wearing a long T-shirt and jeans.
Six months after Lane died, there was an arrest made in connection to his death. Corey Atchison was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. He was convicted on June 11, 1991, and sentenced to life in prison.
In an evidentiary hearing for Atchison that took place in September of 2018, Harris said that although she never saw the face of the shooter, she was certain of one thing: It was NOT Atchison.
“When I found out about Corey (being convicted), I was like, ‘How could that be,” Harris said on the witness stand. “Corey Atchison is huge.”
Atchison weighed in at 220 pounds and stood 6′ 2″ in 1990. And as for Harris, she was interviewed by police on the night Lane was shot, yet she was never called to testify at Atchison’s trial. Atchison was 20 when a jury convicted him of a murder he and witnesses say he didn’t commit. In his 1991 trial, Atchison testified he spent the night of Aug. 3, 1990, with three friends driving around north Tulsa in his ‘76 Oldsmobile.
Atchison says that sometime in the early morning hours, the four men heard a gunshot ring out. When the car turned the street corner, it’s headlights illuminated a man lying near the curb. Atchison backed his Oldsmobile into an apartment complex’s parking lot and the group walked over the scene. The man appeared to be alive.
“There was some people, more people coming out,” Atchison testified. “you know, and I asked them, will somebody call the police or ambulance or something.”
The four men stayed at the scene until police arrived and when the men returned to Atchison’s car, police officers approached and searched them. Atchison wasn’t treated as a murder suspect at the time. But on Feb. 11, 1991, Tulsa police asked him for a statement on the incident. A warrant was issued for his arrest that day.
By the time Atchison’s trial started, the state had only one witness who said that they saw Atchison shoot Lane, 16-year-old Doane Thomas, a former member of the Crips who said that he saw a group of the rival gang the Bloods attack Lane.
“I seen Corey had the gun in his hand. He shot the man,” Thomas said on the witness stand at Atchison’s trial.
Doane Thomas, the state of Oklahoma’s key witness later recanted his testimony in 2017.
In the years since the 1991 trial, three people, including Thomas and King, have submitted affidavits stating that Atchison did not shoot Lane. In his affidavit, Thomas wrote:
“I did not see who fired the shots that killed James Warren Lane but I know Corey Atchison did not kill Lane because he walked up on the scene afterwards calling out to people to call 911 to help Lane.”
Atchison’s application for post-conviction relief states prosecutors introduced alleged gang affiliations connected to Atchison and his friends that implied they were guilty by affiliation. Harris repeatedly referred to Atchison by his street name, “Cheese.” In closing arguments, the prosecutor told jurors about the area where the shooting took place, calling it a neighborhood “not like yours or mine.” He also instructed witnesses show their gang tattoos to jurors.
Harris told jurors that while talking to a detective about the case, the detective told him, “‘I grew up in that neighborhood, but, boy, it sure has disintegrated.’”
He added: “Right here in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It’s a different world. With different kinds of people who live different lifestyles.”
In his closing argument’s, Atchison’s attorney Chris Grant, who died in 2016, said the state presented “the evidence of two admitted liars. One, an admitted gang member, and the other, a scared kid.”
There was no gun recovered from the crime.
After deliberations, the jury returned a guilty verdict: Atchison received a life sentence with the possibility of parole. That was the only punishment option the judge offered.
28 Years Later…
Now after 28 years behind bars, a decision regarding the possible release of Atchison has been postponed until July 16, 2019. Early Tuesday morning, Tulsa County Judge Sharon Holmes apologized to defendant Corey Atchison for delaying her decision. She said she has been out of the office for a couple of months and needs time to catch up on work.
He has claimed his innocence from the beginning, and his attorney Joseph Norwood said there is no real evidence linking Atchison to the murder. He claimed that two former Tulsa Police detectives coerced eyewitnesses in the case to falsely testify during the preliminary hearing.
Attorney Norwood said it has been an emotional rollercoaster for his client.
“Corey Atchison is a very cool, calm, humble guy, and he gets this process. He’s been living with this nightmare for 28 plus years,” said Norwood.
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