After listening to witnesses testify for three and a half hours about the character of the man convicted of killing Strawberry mechanic Jim Cooper, Judge Edd Dawson decided not to send Roy George Haught of Star Valley to prison.
Instead, the Gila County Superior Court judge disregarded part of the jury's findings -- the "dangerous-crimes" classification that would have required Haught to serve prison time for negligent homicide and aggravated assault.
That cleared the way for the judge to sentence the 36-year-old excavation company owner to five years probation and six months in the Gila County jail, with credit for nearly a month already served.
Haught was convicted last month of getting into a fight with Cooper outside the mechanic's home in Strawberry and killing him. Cooper died from his injuries in a Valley hospital six days after the fight.
The crimes for which Haught was found guilty -- negligent homicide and aggravated assault -- require mandatory prison time when classified as "dangerous crimes.
Under the judge's ruling, Haught will serve intensive probation -- the most restrictive probation allowed under law -- which means his probation officer must pre-approve everything he does and everyone he sees for the next five years.
"It was a very close question," Dawson said Friday, immediately after making his decision. "He (Haught) had a tremendous number of community activities to his credit and had helped a number of people through his company.
"He had a lifetime of community service -- he worked on schools, churches. He had maybe the most volunteer work I've ever seen. That was a good point in his favor.
"Obviously he shouldn't have been there and this shouldn't have happened, but people get into fist fights all the time and no one dies. It wasn't so reckless as to expect someone to die. It wasn't like shooting a gun through a doorway -- something so reckless that it's no surprise that someone gets hurt.
"The prosecution presented evidence that Mr. Haught had been involved in altercations of this nature throughout the years. They were quite old, but the common thread through them was that Mr. Haught would go out drinking with his buddies, get into an argument with someone and get into a fight."
The defense called witnesses to dispute Haught's involvement in those incidents, Dawson said.
"My final decision was justice would best be served if Mr. Haught was allowed to remain in county jail and contribute to his family and the community and pay restitution to the victim's family.
Haught was ordered to pay more than $7,000 in restitution to Cooper's family for medical and funeral expenses. He is serving his sentence in the Gila County Jail in Payson and is eligible for work release.