By Deon Osborne

More than a year after 34-year old Army veteran LaRue Bratcher was arrested and charged with murder for shooting an attempted burglar outside his cannabis cultivation company, an attorney representing his high-profile case believes Oklahomans from all backgrounds can relate to his story. 

In an interview with The Black Wall Street Times, Attorney Clay Curtis described why his background makes him the “perfect fit” for defending Bratcher, an army veteran, husband and father of four. Attorney Curtis also expressed confidence that a jury will eventually find Bratcher not guilty.

“I think if you were to ask around about me they would tell you I’m emotionally attached to all my cases. And certainly more so with LaRue than most,” Attorney Clay Curtis told TheBWSTimes.

Bratcher was arrested after standing his ground

Shortly after Oklahoma legalized medical cannabis in 2018, Bratcher established Premium Smoke LLC, a cannabis grow operation in Oklahoma City. According to Yahoo News, Vicky Bratcher, LaRue’s wife, explained that because of regulations requiring $100,000 worth of building renovations, the family held off on renewing the license.

On May 27, 2020 around 1:00 a.m Bratcher was alone at his business. A burglar allegedly attempted to enter the establishment for the second night in a row.

According to court documents, LaRue grabbed his gun. Then, when he heard Hardwick at the back door, he “asked the subject what he was doing.” Next, he shot through the door three times “to scare the subject off.”

“He was trying to break in when the business owner, who was inside the business at the time, apparently opened fire with a handgun, striking and killing the man who was breaking in,” Master Sgt. Gary Knight with the Oklahoma City Police Department told KFOR.

Ultimately, Bratcher himself called the police to notify them of the incident. Once on scene, police contacted the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority to verify the legality of the business. Upon discovering the license had expired, officers arrested Bratcher on a felony charge of operating an illegal cannabis business. Yet, he wasn’t initially arrested for the murder. 

A day after the arrest, Bratcher was released on bond. But just a week later, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater reviewed the case. He then upgraded Bratcher’s charges to second-degree murder. 

Black Lives Matter pays bond, frees Bratcher

One week later, police raided Bratcher’s home, escorting him, his children and his wife out into the street at gunpoint and arrested Bratcher again. He and his family refused to accept a plea deal late last year. It was after that refusal when the Oklahoma County District Attorneys Office upgraded Bratcher’s charges to first-degree murder.

Yet, Bratcher’s defense attorney, Clay Curtis, had nothing but words of encouragement. The confident tone comes a month after a community rally drove through Oklahoma City in support of Bratcher. It also comes days after the Oklahoma City chapter of Black Lives Matter freed Bratcher last Tuesday, paying his $400,000 bond.

“It feels great to have him home, being able to see him enjoy himself. Being able to hold his kids. That’s priceless. I feel safe again,” Vicky Bratcher told TheBWSTimes. “He’s going to need time to adjust to everything around him. Life is about picking up the pieces and moving forward. And I’m going to be here for him and help him through this journey.” 

Focusing on just being a family after a year apart, Vicky Bratcher said the love from the community has made all the difference. “We are so appreciative to each and everyone of you who, till this day, continues to check on us, prays for us, and supports us.”

For his part, the attorney representing LaRue Bratcher wasn’t shy about expressing his confidence in winning the case. Altogether, three attorneys are working on the case. Curtis said a co-counsel reached out to him due to his success in trying murder cases and his experience defending clients who are business owners in Oklahoma’s booming medical cannabis industry.

“I fell in love with the case and fell in love with the family,” Attorney Curtis said. “This case is perfect for me.”

Clay Curtis: An Award-winning defense attorney

Curtis spent six years working in the Oklahoma County Public Defender’s Office. While there he tried and won murder cases.

“I think they’re [murder cases] more winnable than a lot of other cases. I think the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is much more meaningful in a murder case because the death penalty or life in prison are the jury’s only options,” Attorney Curtis said.

Curtis left the Public Defender’s Office in 2018 to help build an independent law firm, the Overman Legal Group. That year he tried several murder cases and won all four.

By 2019, His reputation for winning cases earned him the highest honor a defense attorney can receive, the Clarence Darrow Award, making him the Criminal Defense Attorney of the Year.

“We felt the felony murder charge was unlawful,” Attorney Curtis said, explaining why he and his client chose not to take a plea deal. “We believe it’s facts questions for a jury so we waived the preliminary hearing. I felt like it was best left for trial.”

Attorneys Clay Curtis, Ali Khalili and Malcolm Salvage together will represent LaRue Bratcher at the October trial.

Some see a double standard in Oklahoma’s self-defense laws

“I think the Bratchers wanted to bring in an African American lawyer, and I thought Malcolm was very strong where I’m weak,” Attorney Curtis said.

Members of Oklahoma’s Black community along with members of Oklahoma’s medical cannabis community remain outraged that Bratcher is facing murder charges in the first place, calling into question whether Oklahoma’s self-defense laws apply equally to Black or cannabis business owners.

The Rev. T. Sheri Dickerson is executive director of Black Lives Matter – Oklahoma City. She supports Army veteran Bratcher.

“I don’t think he should have ever been detained. Due process is not a thing that happened in this situation. Since this miscarriage of justice began, it shows the disparities and the differences between how black people and our white counterparts are treated in situations like this. Because our belief is that Mr. Bratcher was defending himself from someone who had intention to do him harm and had already committed a crime at his business,” Dickerson told KFOR.

Meanwhile, Attorney Clay Curtis, who has represented teenagers protesting for racial justice, wants Oklahomans to understand that this specific case is relatable to anyone, regardless of their political view or partisan leaning.

“Because the thing about LaRue Bratcher’s case that I think is so extraordinary is that it unites people on all sides of the aisle. And what I mean by that is I don’t want people to think they have to be pro-BLM to acquit LaRue Bratcher. Because they don’t. I don’t think there are Oklahomans who wouldn’t acquit LaRue Bratcher,” Attorney Curtis told TheBWSTimes.

LaRue Bratcher case: an Everyman story

 Curtis said he wants the case to remain about defending our rights against an intruder. “I think every person can relate to that situation. That’s one of people’s top fears. You’re home alone or you’re in your business alone. An intruder comes to your door and the threat that they have to keep you from living your life, to keep you from seeing your family.”

Nevertheless, many on both sides of the aisle remain confused about Oklahoma County DA David Prater’s motivations.

For instance, he placed terrorism charges and a million dollar bond on teenage racial justice protesters last year, but he also went on to charge five police officers with manslaughter. He intervened and attempted to obstruct the ongoing commutation process for death row inmate Julius Jones, and yet he also called out the Oklahoma City Police Department’s lack of transparency and trust with the public.

“I don’t want people—in order to acquit LaRue Bratcher—think that they have to think DA Prater is a racist. I don’t have to sell people on that, and I don’t know what’s in his heart,” Attorney Clay Curtis said. Not wanting to have to kick off every juror who doesn’t support BLM, Clay said he’s glad proving someone is racist is not his job in this case. He added that virtually anyone in Oklahoma can relate to shooting a burglar.

“The truth is I get to shoot a burglar. You get to shoot a burglar. DA Prater gets to shoot a burglar, and LaRue Bratcher gets to shoot a burglar. That’s the bottom line.”