Haught Verdict: Negligent Homicide

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GLOBE -- When the verdict came, Roy George Haught of Star Valley stood silently, looking at the floor of the Gila County courtroom where he had spent five days on trial for second-degree murder, accused of beating-up local mechanic Jim Cooper and killing him.

Three hours after the 12 jurors left the courtroom Tuesday and ordered lunch in, they found Haught guilty of negligent homicide and aggravated assault, crimes that will send the Star Valley businessman and father of two young children to prison for five years or more.

Although Haught was charged with second-degree murder and aggravated assault, the jury was instructed to consider two other options under the murder charge -- negligent homicide and negligent manslaughter.

Negligent homicide -- defined as causing someone's death by negligent action -- is less severe than the crime he was charged with, second-degree murder, and the jury's third option, negligent manslaughter.

The standard sentence for negligent homicide is six years in prison, with a minimum sentence of four years and a maximum of eight.

The 36-year-old also was found guilty of aggravated assault, a more severe crime than negligent homicide, which carries a standard sentence of 7.5 years in prison, with a minimum sentence of five years and a maximum sentence of 15.

Haught said a quick good-bye to his wife, Marie, and his friends who had crowded into the third-floor courtroom until people were standing in the aisles, before he was handcuffed and taken to the Gila County jail in Globe where he will stay until he is sentenced.

Sentencing has been set for March 8, but a mitigation hearing, which will likely circumvent the sentencing hearing, has been requested to give the defense an opportunity to plead for leniency. A finalized date for that hearing has not been set.

Haught's family and friends who stood by helplessly as he was lead out of the courtroom Tuesday, rallied in Payson the next day and organized a letter-writing campaign to urge superior court judge Edd Dawson to give Haught the minimum sentence.

Dawson said Wednesday that the letters and a number of other factors will weigh into his decision.

"Almost everything that makes up who (Haught) is can be brought up," he said. "Mr. Haught's background, criminal record, community service, family, job, the people who depend on him, children -- whatever goes to show what type of character he is will be taken into account."

Gila County District Attorney Jerry DeRose, the lead prosecutor in the case, said he will provide the court with evidence that Haught has an arrest record and a history of violent behavior that includes threatening and assaulting law officers.

"He isn't the choir boy everyone thinks he is," he said.

DeRose said he will recommend that Haught serve the standard sentence, 7.5 years, or more.

The sentences for both crimes will run concurrently because they involve a single incident, he said, and under Arizona's truth-in-sentencing law, Haught will be required to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence.

During the trial, Haught was accused of targeting 53-year-old Jim Cooper and his friend David Baham Dec. 14, 1997 at a tavern in the wooded village of Strawberry, north of Payson, because they looked like hippies.

According to prosecutors, Haught, who had been drinking that night with two buddies and two female acquaintances, tailgated Cooper and followed him to his Strawberry home.

DeRose told the jury that Cooper tried to get Haught to leave and Haught punched him, knocked him unconscious and kicked him while he was on the ground.

Cooper, who had a wife, five children and eight grandchildren, died six days later in a Valley hospital due to a severed carotid artery caused by a hard blow to the head.

Haught maintained his innocence throughout the trial.

"I think the jury found that this was a hate crime because they had beards and David had long hair," DeRose said Wednesday. "They intimidated them, backed them into a corner, Mr. Cooper pushed him away twice and Mr. Haught beat him up."

Cooper's death and the charges against Haught have caused a deep rift between Strawberry residents, who knew Cooper as a kind man who went out of his way to help people, and members of the pioneer ranching families in Payson, who watched Haught grow up here to become a generous business leader and family man.

Both men were well-liked in their communities.

"I live down the street from the service station where Jim worked, and if the light was on there after dark, it meant Jim was helping somebody," John Martel of Strawberry said. "He was the kind of guy who would go out of his way to help a lady change a flat tire. It was the little things that he did that made him important to our community."

His friend, Don Chester, who testified for the prosecution in the trial, said Jim's warm nature left a lasting impression on people.

"It was his smile, his warm handshake and his honesty that I remember about Jim," he said. "He would always take the time to drop whatever he was doing to greet you and shake your hand.

"I always looked forward to him coming in and having a cup of coffee. He was one of the nicest guys I've ever known, and I miss him."

Haught was well known for his philanthropy, supporting not only the local rodeos, but also the Longhorn sports programs. He also regularly donated his time on weekends to help build Payson's new rodeo arena on the south edge of town.

"I know him to be an awfully generous man," Chris Popeck said. "He's the first person to donate his time, money and support. He is one of the kindest, nicest young men. He's always right there for any project around town with his time and equipment."

Payson business owner Barbara Underwood said Haught impressed her with his work ethic.

"He's very honest," she said. "He's worked with us and when he says he'll be there, he'll be there. He takes pride in the quality of his work and he's about as fair as they come."

Haught's attorney, Tracey Westerhausen of Phoenix, could not be reached for comment about a possible appeal in the case, but as of Thursday, no appeal had been filed.

A matter of degrees
The following crimes and their definitions are listed in order of severity:

1. Second-degree murder -- Intentionally killing someone without premeditation, or engaging in reckless action that creates a grave risk of death and thereby causes the death of another person.

2. Negligent manslaughter -- Recklessly causing the death of another person. Second-degree murder and negligent manslaughter are shades of the same crime, Gila County Superior Court Judge Edd Dawson said. "This is reckless conduct, which also can be in the heat of passion, but not the extreme reckless conduct of second-degree murder," he said.

3. Aggravated assault -- An assault can be classified as "aggravated assault" under certain circumstances, such as when someone causes serious physical injury to another, uses a weapon, the act is committed by a strong, healthy person on someone who is hurt or disabled, committed by an adult on a child.

4. Negligent homicide -- Causing, with criminal negligence, the death of another person. "This is the least onerous of the three," Dawson said. "It's on the same order of causing a fatal auto accident after you've been drinking."

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