Murder charges for US pair

Suspects in an Oklahoma shooting rampage that saw three black men killed in a possible race hate attack have been charged and jailed after bail was set at $9.16 million apiece.

Alvin Watts and Jake England are accused of randomly firing on five people in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Friday, in an incident that sparked terror among the local African-American community over the Easter weekend.

Police are still investigating if the shootings were driven by racial hatred. But it has been widely speculated that the attack may have been planned to avenge the death of one of the gunmen’s father, who was killed two years ago.

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A day before the rampage, England, 19, posted on his Facebook page a message that some people have taken to be a motive. He wrote: “Today is two years that my dad has been gone shot by a f**king n***er.”

England added that it was “hard not to go off” given his feelings concerning his father’s death, and the suicide of his fiancée earlier this year.

Tulsa Police spokesman Jason Willingham said that it was clear from the message the teenager “had an axe to grind, and that was possibly part of the motive”.

In court yesterday, England and his alleged accomplice Watts, 32, were charged with three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of shooting with intent to kill in relation to the two surviving victims.

They both appeared in court via a videolink and were held in jail on a $9.16 million bond. They are expected to enter a plea at the next hearing, set for 16 April.

Both men were arrested on Sunday following a two-day manhunt during which police received a number of tip-offs regarding the two white suspects.

It is alleged that they randomly choose their victims during the rampage in a predominantly black community of north Tulsa on Friday afternoon. All those shot were pedestrians picked off by gunman as they cruised the streets in a pick-up truck.

Police named the victims as Dannaer Fields, 49, Bobby Clark, 54, and William Allen, 31. A further two people were treated for gunshot wounds but have since been released from hospital.

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The incident led to widespread fear of further attacks. City councillor Jack Henderson told of how residents had contacted him “afraid that they couldn’t go outside”.

The arrests on Sunday eased tension, but attention immediately switched to whether the attack was driven by racial hatred.

Susan Sevenstar, a friend of England’s family, told reporters he was “a good kid” but “not in his right mind” following the loss of his father and fiancée.

England’s father, Carl, was fatally shot in the chest during a scuffle with a black man who broke into his daughter’s home. The alleged killer in that case is currently serving a six-year sentence for weapons offences.

The incident comes on the back of growing disquiet over the killing of an unarmed black teenager by a self-appointed neighbourhood watchman.

Trayvon Martin, 17, was shot dead by George Zimmerman in February as he walked back to the home of his father’s girlfriend in Sanford, Florida.

The gunman claims he shot in self-defence, but many have questioned Mr Zimmerman’s use of force and his motive for following the youth.