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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, January 29, 2013 8:12 pm

Man ordered to trial in deaths of 2 Oklahoma girls

By TIM TALLEYAssociated Press

An Oklahoma man was ordered Tuesday to stand trial on murder charges in the deaths of two young girls he told an investigator he shot because he thought they were "monsters" coming at him.

Kevin Sweat, 27, of Okmulgee, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the June 2008 shooting deaths of Taylor Placker, 13, and Skyla Whitaker, 11. He has pleaded not guilty, and prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.

Associate District Judge David Martin ordered Sweat to stand trial following a two-day preliminary hearing in Okfuskee County District Court. During Tuesday's hearing, Martin agreed to hear Sweat's video interview with an investigator in 2011, denying a defense motion to suppress it from evidence on the grounds it violated Sweat's constitutional rights because no attorney was present.

Sweat, dressed in an orange jail-issued jumpsuit and shackled at the ankles, showed no reaction when Martin handed down his ruling. Martin said the case was "one of the saddest cases I've had in a long time."

District Attorney Max Cook declined comment on the case. Defense attorney Peter Astor of the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System said Sweat's defense attorneys will "continue to press on."

Martin ordered Sweat to continue to be held without bond. An arraignment date has not been set.

During Tuesday's hearing, Sweat scribbled on a notepad while the 2 1/2 hour digital video recording was played and did not watch it.

In the video, Sweat first tells Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent Kurt Titsworth he had nothing to do with the girls' deaths.

"There would be no point to shooting kids," Sweat said.

But Sweat eventually said he shot what he said were "the demons" who approached him along a rural road where the girls' bullet-riddled bodies were found.

"I see demons, vampires ... monsters, demons, whatever. I do have some problems," Sweat said. "I was scared. ... They were still coming at me, so I shot them."

Whitaker was visiting Placker and the two had gone for a walk along a road near Placker's home. Their bodies were found by Placker's grandfather, who went searching for them when they didn't return.

Sweat said on the video that he had stopped his vehicle on the Okfuskee County road when he saw the two girls. He said he "just panicked" and opened fire with a .40-caliber Glock semi-automatic pistol - then shot them again with a .22-caliber pistol.

"I'm guessing they were monsters," he said. "They were coming after me."

Sweat also admitted using drugs but said he had not done so the day the girls were killed.

"I was not hallucinating. I was not on anything," Sweat said. "Chances are it was some mental problem."

Authorities have not recovered the weapons used in the shooting. Sweat told Titsworth he discarded them but that he doesn't know where.

Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation firearms expert Terrance Higgs has testified that markings on .40-caliber shell casings recovered from the scene matched those recovered from Sweat's father's property and a test casing fired from the weapon by the Baltimore Police Department, which originally purchased it in 2001.

Sweat was charged in the girls' deaths after being arrested in the death of his girlfriend, Ashley Taylor, 23. Sweat's trial on a first-degree murder charge in that case is set for June. He has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors suggested a possible connection between the deaths of Taylor and the two girls as they questioned Sweat's mother and her cousin about statements Sweat made about his relationship with Taylor and his desire to break up with her.

Assistant District Attorney Maxey Reilly asked if Sweat had told them Taylor would spread lies about him if he broke off the relationship, including blaming him for the girls' deaths. But Sweat's mother, Deborah Sweat, and cousin, James McClellan, said they didn't remember Sweat saying Taylor had threatened to tell authorities he shot the two girls.