Haught Gets One Year

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Roy George Haught of Star Valley was sentenced to one year in jail, minus credit for 23 days already served, and two years standard probation for his part in the 1997 death of Strawberry mechanic James Cooper.

Thus ended what was termed a "legendary" local criminal case by Gila County Assistant District Attorney Dennis McCarthy, who represented Cooper's family during the proceeding held at the Gila County Courthouse in Globe.

According to Gila County Attorney Jim Hazel, if Haught had been sentenced to prison instead of jail, he would have received credit for time served in this case, seven months of work release. If Haught had been sentenced to the minimum of 1.5 years, he only would have served 10 months, and would have been eligible for parole after serving 85 percent of the sentence. And if Haught had been sentenced to the maximum of 3.75 years, he would have been incarcerated for about three years and been eligible for parole after serving 85 percent of the sentence.

Douglas Holt, the Graham County judge who presided over the hearing, was able to give Haught up to a year in the county's jail system without having to worry about giving him credit for time served, Hazel said.

It is now up to new Gila County Sheriff John Armor to determine whether Haught is eligible for work release.

Haught declined comment at the hearing's end, and referred all comments to his attorney, Art Lloyd, Friday.

Day in court

Holt announced Haught's sentence to a silent courtroom gallery, which was packed to the walls and into the halls of the courthouse with about 120 onlookers.

"It doesn't matter what I do, it is not going to make the pains and wounds go away," Holt said before handing down his sentence. "The best thing everyone could do would be to show compassion for the other side. Especially, on the Haught side of the road."

On this day, the first sign of that compassion was offered by Haught himself, as he tearfully addressed the court in a soft and halting voice prior to his sentencing.

"Mrs. Cooper, I know you hate me," Haught said, turning to Esther Cooper, the victim's wife, who was seated in the first row directly behind him. "I can't take this any more. I know you're torn, my family's torn, my heart's broken ... My probation officer asked how this would ever be taken off my shoulders, and I told him, 'It won't until the day I die ...

"I want you to know in my heart I am sorry, and I hope and pray you forgive me ... I pray for peace and I pray for peace for your family ... I'm sorry, and I apologize to everybody ..."

When it was Cooper's turn to speak, she did not look at Haught, but rather Judge Holt.

"I accept his apology, and I respect him for offering it," she said, "... (but) we all have to stand up and accept responsibility for our actions ... I don't hate you, Roy ... I never said you intended to do it ... but nobody knows what this incident has done to my family, to me ...

"If it had ended at the last sentencing, that would have been fine. But it didn't. All of this would have been avoided if (Haught) had just stood up years ago and said, 'I did it, I'm sorry."

Cooper still has not heard those words. During the resentencing hearing, the closest Haught came to a verbal admission of guilt came from his attorney.

"(Haught) recognizes that he hit the man, he hit the man hard, and could be responsible for his demise," Lloyd said in his opening remarks.

May 17, Haught pleaded guilty to negligent homicide a class 4 felony that carries a sentence that ranges from probation to three years and nine months in the Arizona Department of Corrections.

At Monday's hearing, Holt had complete discretion as to what sentence within that range Haught would receive.

Anatomy of a death

Roy Haught's legal battles began more than three-and-a-half years ago, when he and Cooper crossed paths Dec. 17, 1997. According to a friend of Cooper's, Haught had been tailgating Cooper whom he did not know until their two cars finally stopped in front of Cooper's Strawberry home.

Haught, who admitted that he punched Cooper once in the left side of the head, knocking him unconscious, told investigators that Cooper instigated the fight by yelling and hitting Haught in the jaw.

Cooper later regained consciousness, but lapsed into a coma and died in a Valley hospital six days later from what was determined to be a blow to the head that severed his carotid artery.

Haught, who owns an excavating company in Star Valley, was found guilty in February 1999 of negligent homicide and aggravated assault crimes deemed "dangerous" in nature, a provision that requires prison time.

Sentencing Judge Ed Dawson, however, disregarded the dangerous crimes element of the verdict, and Haught was sentenced to six months in jail with credit for time already served and placed on five years of probation. Later, however, the Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court abused its discretion and sent the case back for resentencing. That decision was allowed to stand by a subsequent Supreme Court ruling paving the way to yesterday's hearing.

Offense and defense

"If I might have the court's indulgence, let me begin with a Christmas story," Lloyd said, launching the hearing.

He then recounted the fable of a poverty-stricken couple who did not have enough money to buy each others' Christmas gifts. Finally, the man sells his pocket watch to buy his wife a decorative clip for her long, black hair and, unbeknownst to him, she cuts off and sells her hair to buy her husband a chain for his watch.

The story's parallel to the Haught case, Lloyd concluded, is that "It's a failure to have misassumptions."

Vanessa Beckham, one of Jim Cooper's stepdaughters, later responded to Lloyd's tale with a Christmas story of her own.

"I had a wooden canoe carved for my dad for Christmas," Beckham told the court. "And you know what? I woke up Christmas morning, and I didn't have a dad to give it to."

Speaking in defense of Haught, his long-time friend and character witness, retired Payson banker Bob Welker told the court that Haught "has strived to make things right with the Coopers, with his family and with the community ... He now understands how to be a better man, a better husband, a better father, and a better member of the community. I've watched him change his life ..."

Judge Holt, however, was clearly more swayed by the remarks of Esther Cooper, who requested in the courtroom that Haught be given at least one year in jail and additional probation.

"No amount of money is going to bring my husband back," Cooper said. "If Roy goes to jail for one year or five years, he'll still come home one day. But my husband will never come home. If you take a life, you should pay for it."

Leading up to the sentencing, Holt remarked that "what we are dealing with is clearly an unintentional death, but a death nonetheless." Adding that he had "put people in prison for a lot less than negligent homicide," Holt said that his decision would be tempered by several considerations including some 488 letters he received from Haught's supporters, and the words Haught spoke in his own behalf.

"I don't know if I've ever seen any greater expression of remorse than I heard from you today," the judge said.

Holt then decreed that Haught would serve one year in jail, likely in Payson if that facility could provide work release "to keep his business going," as well as visits by friends and family members; two years of "standard probation" consecutive to the two-and-a-half years Haught has already completed; and no further community service beyond the "hundreds of hours" he has already performed.

While Lloyd attempted to gain his client credit for a period of "house arrest" that was served, Holt quickly turned down the request, adding, "and if you don't like that, you can take it up on appeal."

Holt then said that Haught could have "whatever time he needs to square things away" before starting his jail sentence. Lloyd responded that his client would be ready for incarceration Aug. 1 at 5 p.m.

As the courtroom emptied, most of the principals involved in the case refused to comment. But Haught's friend, Bob Welker, did not try to conceal his disappointment.

"I feel Roy has paid a great price over these last two or three years," Welker said. "Personally, I would have felt better if the judge would have taken that into consideration as far as what he decided as punishment.

"But I do think it's something Roy can handle," Welker said. "He's a good man, he's got a strong constitution to do what's right, and I think we're going to see him do that in this next year."

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