Judge denies bail for murder defendant

Second-degree murder defendant David Christopher Cochlin sits in a Canadian County courtroom before a bond hearing Tuesday, January 30, 2018. (Photo by Mindy Ragan Wood)

By Mindy Ragan Wood, Staff Writer – Piedmont resident David Christopher Cochlin was denied bail Tuesday after prosecutors presented evidence that suggests he may have driven drunk after the accident that killed two teenagers in December.

Canadian County District Judge Paul Hesse sided with prosecutors to keep Cochlin in jail after a 90-minute hearing.

Cochlin was charged with two counts of second-degree murder after his blood alcohol level was later found to be .208 with amounts of oxycontin and oxymorphone in his body. He was driving 106 miles per hour just before his 2017 Mercedes struck the victims’ Ford Ranger as they were leaving the intersection of NW 150 and Mustang Road.

In the alternative, Cochlin also was charged with two counts of first-degree manslaughter. If the case goes to trial, jurors would be able to consider the murder or manslaughter charges.

Killed in the Dec. 15 collision were Sean Tucker and Luke Ross, who graduated from Southwest Covenant School in May 2017. The teens were home on Christmas break from college when they died in the fiery crash.

Canadian County Assistant District Attorney Eric Epplin argued that Cochlin is a flight risk and a danger to the public. Two Oklahoma City police officers testified at the hearing and presented evidence that Cochlin may have been drinking and driving after the collision. Investigators obtained a search warrant for the home and property.

“A tip came through Crime Stoppers that he (Cochlin) was driving a white Chevrolet Silverado and it was at the house. Inside the truck there was an empty bottle of vodka in the back, in the floorboard on the passenger side and near a booster seat,” Oklahoma City police Sergeant Dave Roberts testified.

Roberts also said a name plate was in the truck that is used for child pick-up lines at elementary schools. The child seat and name plate belonged to Tara Baker’s daughter, Cochlin’s girlfriend, who was in the car with him the night of the accident. It was not established if the bottle in Cochlin’s truck had been consumed before or after the accident in December.

Cochlin suffered critical injuries in the collision and was hospitalized. His girlfriend was not hurt, investigators said in December.

Investigators testified that they attempted to serve a warrant late on Jan. 25, but that Cochlin was “one or two steps ahead” of them in the Tulsa area by Friday. News that police were seeking Cochlin was public about noon on Jan. 26. At that point, he apparently turned off his cell phone. When investigators located Baker, she was arrested on a bogus check complaint and did not offer any information about her boyfriend’s whereabouts.

“We tried to ping his phone and the phone company told us the phone turned off at 1:30 p.m. The phone never came back on that day (Friday),” Roberts testified.

Cochlin’s driving record also showed he was arrested for driving under the influence in 2002 and 2009, although he was not convicted of either offense.

His attorney, Scott Adams, said he could not confirm which agency involved that there was an arrest warrant until Friday afternoon. He claimed he had an agreement with Epplin that Cochlin would surrender if a warrant was issued. Adams insisted his client was out of town, not fleeing arrest.  Cochlin surrendered to law enforcement on Saturday, January 27, 2018.

“There was an agreement to surrender,” he told the court. “He had severe injuries and was going to the doctor up in Tulsa and being treated there…two or three times a week.”

He argued for bail for Cochlin.

“It is a serious crime and we acknowledge that,” Adams said. “The law is clear that bond is not to be used for punishment…it’s a tough case. However, he is entitled to a bond. No previous convictions for felonies or misdemeanors. Mr. Cochlin will abide by any commissions this court wants to set, whether it’s to make sure he’s not drinking or directing him not to drive…whatever the conditions the court chooses to impose. I can assure the court that he will abide by any restrictions.”

Hesse said bond can be denied based on the severity of the alleged crime, and the fact that punishment for a second-degree murder conviction carries the maximum of life in in prison. Hesse determined Cochlin is a safety risk based on the strength of the evidence.

“The court finds by clear and convincing evidence that proof of the defendant’s guilt is evident. In light of the defendant’s record for driving under the influence and also evidence that there was an empty bottle of vodka found in his vehicle, that he not only owned but evidence that he was using, I find no conditions that would exist to ensure the safety of the community if I were to release you on a bond, Mr. Cochlin.”

Cochlin was returned to the Canadian County Jail to await his next court date on March 30. Cochlin owns APEX Customer Care, a telecommunications company with an address in Moore.

Adams said he disagreed with the judge’s decision.

“We don’t think it’s appropriate and we will deal with that at the Court of Criminal Appeals,” he said.