Jacob England, left, and Alvin Watts were charged Friday in shootings that killed three people in Tulsa last weekend.
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Two men accused of going on a shooting spree that terrorized the predominantly black north side of this Oklahoma city face murder and hate crime charges, prosecutors said Friday in an announcement praised by community leaders who had called for swift action by authorities.
Jake England, 19, and his roommate, Alvin Watts, 33, each were charged with three counts of first-degree murder, two counts of shooting with intent to kill and five counts of malicious harassment, prosecutors said. The harassment counts allege the victims were targeted because of their race.
"I think that it's an embrace, a symbolic embrace of the serious nature of the crime," said Democratic State Representative Seneca Scott, who attended a Friday meeting with area ministers and civil rights activist Jesse Jackson. "Sad as it is, it's a real victory for justice."
Jackson planned to stay in Tulsa for a Saturday community worship service.
The charges were announced two days after second-degree murder charges were brought in another racially charged case, the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida. That case sparked nationwide outrage and weeks of protests over the delay in charging neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who shot the unarmed teenager in a gated community on Feb. 26. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense.
Police say England and Watts, arrested early Sunday after a two-day manhunt, have confessed and appeared to have chosen five victims at random. Three died and two others were wounded. All the victims were black, and police have said one motive might have been England's desire to avenge his father's fatal shooting by a black man two years ago.
Defense attorney Clark Brewster said Friday that it's "a misplaced premise that he was motivated by any racial hate."
First-degree murder is punishable by death or life in prison in Oklahoma. Prosecutors said decisions about whether to seek the death penalty are usually made after a preliminary hearing. A first conviction under the state's malicious harassment law - which applies in cases where a victim is specifically targeted because of race, religion, ancestry, natural origin or disability - carries up to a year in jail.
"Filing charges is the first step to obtain justice for the victims and their families," said Doug Drummond, Tulsa County First Assistant District Attorney. "This is a tragic and senseless crime."
England and Watts are to be arraigned Monday.
Documents filed with the charges said anonymous callers to a police department hotline before the men were arrested claimed England was a racist who hated black men and that he "has mentioned he will die in a shootout with the police if he has to." England's family and friends have said the death of his father and his girlfriend's January suicide sent him into a downward spiral.
England's father, Carl, was fatally shot in 2010 by a black man who had threatened Carl England's daughter. After tracking down Pernell Jefferson, the men fought and Carl England was fatally shot. Jefferson was not charged with homicide because an investigation determined he acted in self-defense.
The Easter weekend shootings had gripped Tulsa's black community with fear. Quick arrests relieved many residents and ended talk of a vigilante response, but community leaders were firm in calling the shootings a hate crime.