By DYLAN GOFORTH
The former reserve Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office deputy facing a second-degree manslaughter charge after shooting and killing Eric Harris earlier this year during an undercover sting appeared in court on Friday and almost no one saw it.
Eric Jordan, the assistant Tulsa County district attorney assigned the case, said Corbin Brewster, the son of Robert Bates’ attorney Clark Brewster, called him Thursday evening to say the defense team was interested in pushing up the date of his preliminary hearing.
At preliminary hearings, a judge listens to testimony and decides whether the case will proceed to jury trial.
Bates was originally set for a preliminary hearing on July 2. But his attorney is going to be in New York during on that date, so Jordan said he had no objection to moving the hearing up.
Court cases, especially high-profile cases like this one, proceed at a sometimes glacial pace. If both sides were ready to move ahead, there was no sense in sticking with the previous schedule, Jordan said.
But during a conference call with Clark Brewster and Special Judge Martha Rupp on Friday morning, Bates’ team asked if the preliminary hearing could be held in just a couple of hours, at 11:30 a.m.
“At that point, obviously, I knew it was going today,” Jordan said.
But very few others did.
Susan Witt, communications director for the DA’s office, sent media members a note at 11 a.m. notifying them of the 11:30 a.m. hearing.
But by that point the hearing was over. Brewster and Bates, who court records state appeared in person, had entered the third-floor courtroom, waived the preliminary hearing and left, all before 11:15 a.m.
Jordan said that when he arrived for the hearing, Bates and Brewster were there with the waiver forms signed and ready.
“They were there early, and the judge looks at us and says ‘You guys want to do this?” Jordan said. “I said ‘Let’s go … I wasn’t thinking about (the media) wanting to be there, or I would have waited.”
It’s not the first time Bates has been hustled in and out of a public situation. When he was arrested April 16, he was escorted into the jail by deputies, posted bond and exited the facility in less than 15 minutes, a process much quicker than most inmates are afforded.
Waiving a preliminary hearing can sometimes signal that a plea deal has been offered, or is likely, though both sides insist no such discussions have taken place in Bates’ case.
“The primary purpose for the prelim from the defense standpoint is to have people testify under oath and put them in a situation where they’re committed under oath,” Brewster said. “So when you go to trial you have something to rely on.
“In this case, I didn’t think (the hearing) was necessary, it’s all on video. The real issue is was (the Harris shooting) an accident? I don’t think a prelim was going to help at all … I saw no need to put the prosecution through a prelim, or put witnesses on the stand and spend all that money when it won’t help.”
Bates is set to return to district court July 13 for an arraignment.