Former Tulsa Judge Gives Criminal Prosecution Presentation To 1921 Graves Oversight Committee

Monday, May 17th 2021, 9:49 pm
By: Amy Slanchik

TULSA, Oklahoma -

The Public Oversight Committee for the 1921 Graves Investigation met virtually Monday night to learn more about the idea of what criminal prosecution could look like today when it comes to the Tulsa Race Massacre.  

Tulsa attorney and former District Judge Bill Kellough gave a presentation for about an hour, strictly about criminal prosecution, not civil lawsuits.  

He said in his opinion, there are no criminal charges possible today. 

First he went over what kinds of crimes historians know happened back in 1921, like murder, shooting with intent to kill, assault and battery and arson. But he said all of those crimes require a living suspect, which he said is "simply impossible" 100 years later, considering how old the suspects would have already been at the time.  

Kellough pointed out that it is not unheard of to prosecute someone decades later, because there is no statute of limitations on murder, but prosecutors would need to find a living suspect first.  

"Any one of whom living today could be prosecuted just as we saw prison guards at Auschwitz 90 years old, being tried in courtrooms in Germany. The same thing could happen here, for murder,” Kellough said.  

Kellough said another avenue for criminal prosecution to consider is the "crime of conspiracy," to hold any government agencies like the city, county and state accountable for their roles in the massacre. The former judge said while that theory is supportable, there is a three-year statute of limitations on that charge, so, time ran out long ago.  

Kellough read this prepared statement during the meeting to wrap up his presentation:  

“No one is alive to be prosecuted for the many crimes against the residents of Greenwood. The law does not allow for one person to stand in and be punished for the crimes of another person unless that person was an actual aider or abettor. The city, county and state of Oklahoma are government entities and obviously cannot be in prison or subjected to any type of physical punishment. They can be fined and often are for state and federal crimes for such things as anti-trust laws and environmental laws, for example. In theory the government entities in the Greenwood case could be considered as co-conspirators along with the persons who committed the acts. Since these are crimes of violence, they fall under the jurisdiction of the state and not federal law… Conspiracy to commit a felony is a crime punishable by both a prison sentence and a fine. The city, state or county could be charged as coconspirators, however, in my opinion the statute of limitations for conspiracy, which is three years from the date of the commission of the crime, would prevent charges being filed, arrests made and trial proceeding against any person. So therefore, in my opinion there are no criminal charges possible today for the Greenwood Race Massacre. I want to re-emphasize that this does not preclude the possibility of money damages. Again, with all the limitations issues on statute of limitations, but nonetheless I wouldn’t want to give anyone the impression that I’m suggesting that those cases have no merit.” 

The city said at the meeting it is still on track to begin the full excavation and exhumation of the remains found in the mass grave on June 1.