A judge sentenced a former Tulsa County reserve deputy to four years in the fatal shooting of a suspect last year.
After a day of testimony, the judge sentenced Robert Bates to the maximum sentence allowed by law. The judge said there is no sentence that would make anyone feel good and said despite an exemplary life, Bates made one mistake that took a life.
While some left court angry, one woman saying “Yeah, the criminal won. Good ole Eric Harris,” others left in tears.
Bates' attorney, Clark Brewster, said Bates led an exemplary life of service, giving his time and money to people and organizations.
The judge said despite Bates' age, medical condition, and good deeds, he said the jury decided Bates was guilty and sentenced him to four years. The judge said that was a legitimate and moral consequence.
Bates said he mistook his handgun for his stun gun when he fatally shot Eric Harris. Tuesday, with tears in his eyes, the 74-year-old told the judge he is regretful and prays for forgiveness every night for taking a life.
"The fact this could be driven to this result based on an accident, to me, we're in a world that just doesn't make sense," Brewster said.
Tuesday afternoon there was a lot of testimony from the Harris family, as well as from Bates’s wife, who asked the judge not to send her husband to prison.
She said he is a good man who has done an untold amount of good for the community. She spoke about a time when he saved a man's life off the coast of Florida. She said he pulled him onto their boat, got him medical care and even gave him money.
Bates’s wife also said he helped a young, single mother get an apartment, food and furniture, and that there were more examples of his service to the community.
She told the judge, with all of Bates' health problems, she is afraid he would not make it out of prison alive.
Two deputies also testified on his behalf.
They had each been on about 100 operations with Bates and said they never saw him be aggressive toward a suspect and that his job was to always bring up the rear, haul equipment and transport suspects.
They said he did not pay to play or buy a badge, but volunteered his time and made donations, not just to the sheriff's office, but to community organizations.
They said they believe he had no intent to shoot Harris and that it was an accident.
Eric Harris’s son and son’s mother also took the stand Tuesday afternoon.
The mother said Harris was kind and generous and was always helping people in need. She said he had a motto of, “If I have it, you have it.”
She admitted Harris made mistakes but said even when he was in prison he stayed in contact with her and their son and stepson. She said she’s forgiven Bates, but believes there are consequences for his actions and that four years in prison compared to losing a life is nothing.
Harris’s son said his father always called and encouraged him to respect his mother and to not make the same mistakes he did.
His son said it was devastating to not have his father at his recent high school graduation and that they have a hole in their heart that cannot be filled.
During Tuesday's sentencing, Bates' doctor testified that prison would be a "death sentence" for him. He said Bates has heart issues, arthritis, depression, sleep apnea, acid reflux, low testosterone and needs eight specialists.
An expert testified house arrest would be better, where taxpayers would not have to house, or feed or pay for Bates' medical needs.
Prosecutors agreed Bates led a good life, and agreed the shooting was an accident, but said justice should be the same for everyone, regardless of race, age, health or money.
Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray said, "That's one bad decision, one bad day. It doesn't erase the value of someone's life, but it also doesn't mean you don't suffer the consequences of that bad decision."
Harris was restrained and unarmed when he was shot during an illegal gun sales sting. His killing prompted a grand jury investigation of the sheriff's office and the indictment and resignation of Sheriff Stanley Glanz, a close friend of Bates.
Before announcing the sentence, the judge denied a motion from the defense to delay the sentencing on the grounds that the trial transcript is not ready and the defense plans to appeal the conviction.
Bates' attorney says in 231 manslaughter cases in Oklahoma in the past 40 years, Bates is the only one not to get some type of probation. Brewster said he plans to appeal.