Roy George Haught wants to end his probation eight months early. And his victim's stepdaughter is outraged.
Friday afternoon, before Graham County Judge Douglas Holt in a Payson courtroom, Haught and his attorney, Art Lloyd, sought early termination of his four-year probation two years of which had been served prior to Haught's sentencing July 12 of last year.
Haught, the owner of Roy Haught Excavating in Star Valley, was freed from jail Dec. 23 after serving five months of a 12-month work-release sentence for his involvement in the 1997 beating death of Strawberry mechanic James Cooper.
At the Friday hearing following arguments for early release by Lloyd, and against the request by Gila County District Attorney Daisy Flores and Cooper's 28-year-old stepdaughter, Vanessa Beckham Judge Holt told the packed courtroom that he would need to review information provided by both sides before making his final decision.
Holt did not say when that decision would be announced. Haught's probation is due to expire July 12, 2003.
According to Lloyd, Haught deserves early release because he has been "in compliance with the terms and conditions of his probation," and has received no write-ups or citations for probationary violations since his original sentencing.
"Mr. Haught is a model probationer, and all we ask is that he be treated as any other probationer," Lloyd said.
Because release from probation cannot be granted in any case which involves a victim without testimony from a victim, Beckham was allowed to read a statement.
"I will begin by saying that I miss my father very much still. His love was unconditional, he was so kind to everyone. He is not the person the Haught supporters have portrayed him to be. He was my teacher, my hero, my dad."
Choking back tears, Beckham continued.
""My mother, my sisters, my children and I have not been able to grieve this tremendous loss we have suffered ... Roy killed someone very precious to many, yet he has yet to take a reasonable punishment for taking another's life. Why should a murderer go freely about his days, while we suffer endlessly a loss that can never be replaced?
"The one year that Mr. Haught was supposed to spend behind bars which was hardly a punishment to begin with was instead spent with the privilege of work release, which in my opinion is no sentence for killing someone. Roy has been granted leniency after leniency throughout this entire case.
"My mother (Esther Cooper) has lost two homes, has no vehicle, and is living with my baby sister. She is 60 years old, she has raised six children ... Roy took her husband's life, and with doing this he took her livelihood. She has nothing, and it is all his fault ...
"With all due respect," Beckham's statement concluded, "can he at least serve out probation, since he has yet to serve any other part of his sentence out in full?"
Anatomy of a homicide case
Haught's legal battles began 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 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 died in a Valley hospital from what was determined to be a blow to the head that severed his carotid artery.
The case against Haught lasted until July 12, 2001, when after pleading guilty to negligent homicide he was sentenced to one year in jail minus credit for 23 days of incarceration, as well as two years of standard probation consecutive to the two years he had already accumulated.
Shortly after being checked into the Payson jail, Haught was granted work release, allowing him to leave jail during his regular work hours. He was released from incarceration five months later.
By press time, Haught had not responded to a request to be interviewed for this article.