Black Oklahoma man faces 1st-degree murder charge after killing white alleged burglar
LaRue Bratcher, a 34-year-old Oklahoma Black Army veteran, remains behind bars for first degree murder more than a year after shooting a white man who allegedly tried to break into his marijuana grow business.
With his trial date being postponed until later this year, Bratcher's family and friends and members of the Oklahoma City community stand behind him and say the murder charges are unfair.
"I think this was an injustice for the simple fact that if the roles were reversed, if this were a white person in the facility, he would not be in that situation," Bratcher's wife Vicky Bratcher told Yahoo News in a video Interview.
"Someone broke into his apartment," Bratcher's uncle Derrick Neighbors said at a rally last month. “He didn't go out to look for trouble. He was in his own business. "
In 2018, when Oklahoma voters were legalizing medical marijuana, Bratcher Premium Smoke LLC, a marijuana grow shop in Oklahoma City, whose business license expired a year later. Bratcher had planned to renew his license in 2019, his wife said, but learned he was not allowed to do so until he had so kept the warehouse it was housed in, valued at nearly $ 100,000 he turned back.
LaRue Bratcher and Vicky Bratcher with their youngest child. (Vicky Bratcher)
At around 1 a.m. on May 8, 2020, Bratcher was in the grower's warehouse when Daniel Hardwick, a 42-year-old white man, allegedly tried to break into the business for the second night in a row. That night's video reportedly shows Hardwick park his car in the back of the store, walk to the store's door, and push the door handle to gain entry.
"He was trying to break in when the store owner who was in the store at the time apparently opened fire with a pistol, hit and killed the man," Master Sgt. Gary Knight of the Oklahoma City Police Department told KFOR.
Bratcher called the police shortly after the shooting, and at the scene, officers called the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority to make sure the deal was legal. When they found out the company's license had expired, Bratcher was arrested for illegally running a grow shop, a crime, and was held on bail of $ 5,000. However, when Hardwick died, he was not initially arrested. In addition to the arrest of Bratcher, authorities also seized 480 marijuana plants, valued at an estimated $ 1,500,000.
One day after his arrest, Bratcher was released on bail. But just a week later, the city prosecutor reviewed the case and upgraded Bratcher's charges to second degree murder. A week later, police ransacked Bratcher's house, escorted him, his children and his wife onto the street, and arrested Bratcher again. Then, after refusing to accept a plea deal late last year, Bratcher's charges were upgraded to first degree murder. The family told Yahoo News that they don't understand why.
Those convicted of second degree murder in Oklahoma can face a minimum of 10 years' imprisonment up to a life sentence of 45 years in the state of Oklahoma, with parole after serving 85 percent of the sentence. Penalties for those convicted of first degree murder vary, but include life imprisonment with no possibility of parole or death.
A prison in Oklahoma. (Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images)
Although Oklahoma is a state with a Stand your Ground law or castle doctrine, those rights do not apply to those found to have committed a crime. Prosecutors say that by running his grow business without a license, Bratcher has committed a crime and any self-defense clause will be removed.
Knight also told Yahoo News that Bratcher had no legal authority to shoot him since Hardwick was on the other side of the door.
"[Bratcher] shot an intruder working on the doorknob," Knight said. “To use lethal force, you have to determine yourself or the life of an innocent person is in imminent danger. The guy was on the other side of the door. ... That is not 'assert yourself'. "
Knight added that when Hardwick died, officers initially did not arrest Bratcher because it was not their job to determine who was right or wrong. The police are only responsible for collecting all information on the scene, Knight said, and "it's up to the prosecutor to decide from there."
The Oklahoma County Attorney's Office did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo News.
Bratcher's attorney Clay Curtis believes Bratcher acted "sensibly" without the Stand your Ground defense.
"The evidence shows that Mr. Bratcher acted sensibly under the circumstances," Curtis told Yahoo News. “I think everyone would fear for their life under these circumstances. ... In this case, the issue is not that we are growing weed in the spirit of murder, but whether people think that he acted sensibly under the circumstances. "
Bratcher's wife, who also served in the U.S. military, believes the courts are victimizing Hardwick and using her husband's army training against him.
"We fought for this country and at the end of the day it feels like coming home and it doesn't mean anything to anyone," said Vicky Bratcher.
Vicky added that at last year's hearing, prosecutors said her husband was a "threat to the community" because of his previous combat training and weapon handling skills.
"They used our veteran experience [against us]," she said. "That is literally a slap in the face."
Veterans with an American flag. (Getty Images)
A petition in support of Bratcher's release had received more than 5,800 signatures by Tuesday afternoon. Dozens of protesters marched through downtown Oklahoma City in support of Bratcher last month and protested outside the county jail.
"When you're in trouble, someone has to fight for you," said Neighbors, Bratcher's uncle. "This is my family and we will fight for him."
The trial date for Bratcher has been set for October 11th this year.
Feeling a mixture of emotions, Vicky Bratcher is cautiously optimistic that justice will prevail.
"I feel drained ... my heart is broken," she said. “The whole year was very tough. I still run the camp, look after the children and make sure that everything is safe at home for his return. But it was hard to know that I don't know what's going to happen. "
Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority updated its policy earlier this year to allow cardholders to apply for a new license while still using their expired license until the new one is received in the mail.
(Thumbnail photo of cover photo: Photo illustration: Yahoo News; Photos: Vicky Bratcher)
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