The Arizona Attorney General's office will file its official appeal Thursday challenging a judge's decision that spared Star Valley businessman Roy G. Haught several years in prison after a jury found him guilty of negligent homicide and aggravated assault for the death of Strawberry mechanic Jim Cooper.
The appeal, requested in March by the Gila County prosecutor in the case, will be filed in the state Court of Appeals, Division 2 in Tucson. The defense also requested an appeal, and written arguments in both appeals will be filed in tandem.
The attorney handling the prosecution's case said it would take three to six months for the three-judge panel to decide on the appeals.
Haught was convicted in February of following Cooper to his Strawberry home the night of Dec. 14, 1997, and causing the 53-year-old's death during a fight in front of his house. Cooper, who was 18 years older, four inches shorter and at least 55 pounds lighter than Haught, died in a Valley hospital six days later from a severed carotid artery caused by a hard hit to the head.
Haught contended in his testimony during the trial that he threw a single punch at Cooper after Cooper shoved him twice. However, an autopsy showed injuries to Cooper's head, shoulders and chest, and the prosecution contended that Haught punched Cooper, knocked him down and kicked him.
Judge changed jury's decision
When the jury in the case found Haught guilty in February of negligent homicide and aggravated assault, it declared the charges "dangerous crimes," a provision that requires mandatory prison time.
A month later, however, during sentencing, Gila County Superior Court Judge Edd Dawson disregarded the jury's finding of "dangerous crimes" a move that cleared the way for him to sentence Haught to five years' probation and six months in the Gila County Jail, with credit for nearly a month served.
"He had a lifetime of community service -- he worked on schools, churches," Dawson said immediately following his sentencing ruling in March. "He had maybe the most volunteer work I've ever seen.
"I feel few judges in the state would have sentenced him to prison," the judge said later. "Because of his whole life, I think any judge would have decided this wasn't the kind of man they wanted to send to prison for a long time."
Haught has been serving his jail time on house arrest, which allows him to live at home and go to work with strict restrictions. He is scheduled to be released from house arrest Aug. 15.
Haught will continue a program of intensive probation that requires at least two face-to-face meetings with probation officials each week, said Steve Montgomery, unit supervisor for the Payson office of the Gila County Probation Department. This will include meetings with a probation officer and random visits by a surveillance officer to Haught's home to see that he is meeting his nightly curfew, Montgomery said.
He said Tuesday that Haught has had no violations of his house arrest or probation requirements.
Appeals working in tandem
The Attorney General's office will file its opening brief in its appeal Aug. 12, which will be followed by an answering brief from the defense. The prosecutors will then have a final opportunity to file a reply brief before the court decides the issue.
The defense's appeal, which will work the same way, will be filed shortly after the prosecution's initial brief.
"Normally the court decides the appeal based on written arguments," said case prosecutor Kent Cattani of the Attorney General's office. "The court only requests oral arguments in one out of 100 cases."
Cattani said he expects a decision in three to six months on both appeals. If Dawson's ruling is overturned, Haught may be resentenced under the rules governing "dangerous crimes."