The news was stunning -- Payson's Roy Haught, convicted of causing the death of James Cooper of Strawberry in a nighttime fight, was sentenced by Judge Edd Dawson to only six months of work-release jail time and five years of probation.
The sentence surely provided solace to Mr. Haught's many family members and supporters, who see in him a hard-working father, a man with a long track record of volunteer service to the community.
But Judge Dawson was wrong to change the jury's verdict so that Mr. Haught does not have to serve hard time in prison.
The 12-member jury found that Mr. Haught's actions the night of Dec. 14, 1997 were "dangerous crimes." This finding called for a sentence of at least five years in the state prison.
Judge Dawson, citing testimony to Mr. Haught's good character, decided that the jury was wrong -- that the defendant's behavior did not constitute dangerous crimes. He noted that "people get into fist fights all the time and no one dies. It wasn't so reckless as to expect someone to die." By tossing out the dangerous crimes finding of the jury, the judge could impose a lighter sentence.
But we agree with the juror who said afterward, "Everyone says what a good man (Haught) was. Well, I'm sure Mr. Cooper was a good man too." Jim Cooper didn't have the opportunity to be a character witness for Mr. Haught.
Judges occasionally overturn the seemingly outrageous decisions of juries. But that's not the case here. Testimony at Mr. Haught's trial points to the fact that, as the prosecution contended, Mr. Haught was indeed spoiling for a fight that night. He set in motion the series of events that led to the fatal blow, and he delivered that blow -- and possibly more. Evidence presented by the prosecution indicated that there have been other times that Mr. Haught's behavior could have resulted in a similar tragedy.
Judge Dawson's decision regarding the well-connected defendant undermines faith in our legal system -- faith that all will be treated equally under the law.
Roy Haught is to be commended for all that he has done for his family, his employees, and his community. But this does not excuse his deadly behavior or that he should serve prison time for a crime that the jury said he committed.