MARKSVILLE, La. (AP) — A Louisiana law enforcement officer was sentenced Friday to 40 years in prison a week after a jury convicted him of manslaughter in the shooting death of a 6-year-old boy with autism.
Derrick Stafford, 33, was convicted in the November 2015 shooting that killed Jeremy Mardis and critically wounded his father after a 2-mile (3-kilometer) car chase in Marksville.
Ruth Wisher, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office, said Stafford was sentenced to 40 years for manslaughter and 15 years for attempted manslaughter. He will serve the sentences concurrently.
Stafford had faced a maximum of 60 years in prison when state District Judge William Bennett sentenced him.
Video from a police officer’s body camera shows the boy’s father, Christopher Few, had his hands raised inside his vehicle while Stafford and a second deputy city marshal collectively fired 18 shots at the vehicle.
Stafford and Norris Greenhouse Jr., the other deputy who fired his weapon that night, were arrested less than a week after the shooting. Greenhouse, 25, awaits a separate trial on murder charges later this year.
The Advocate reported that Stafford turned to look at Few during Friday’s hearing and apologized for the shooting.
“I have kids, man,” said Stafford, who was shackled in court and wearing an orange jail jumpsuit.
But Stafford insisted that Few posed a threat and maintained he fired his weapon to stop it.
Stafford testified at trial that he didn’t know the boy was in the car when he fired and didn’t see his father’s hands in the air.
But he said he shot at the car because he feared Few was going to back up and hit Greenhouse with his vehicle. Stafford said Greenhouse stumbled and fell to the ground as he tried to back away from Few’s car.
Two other officers at the scene – a third deputy city marshal and a Marksville police officer – didn’t fire their weapons that night. Prosecutors said the officers weren’t in any danger and shot at the car from a safe distance.
Stafford and Greenhouse are black. Few is white, and so was his son.
Defense attorneys accused investigators of rushing to judgment. One of Stafford’s attorneys questioned whether investigators would have acted more deliberately if the officers had been white.
Stafford’s aunt, Bertha Andrews, denounced the jury’s verdict outside the courtroom on Friday, calling it a “lynching” and claiming race was a factor in the case.
“If it had been two white men who killed that little baby, it would’ve been justifiable homicide. If it had been a black baby, it would’ve been justifiable homicide,” Andrews told reporters.
Stafford’s attorneys tried to pin the blame for the deadly confrontation on Few. They accused the 26-year-old father of leading the four officers on a dangerous, high-speed chase and ramming into Greenhouse’s vehicle before the gunfire erupted.
But prosecutors said none of the father’s actions that night can justify the deadly response. Marksville Police Lt. Kenneth Parnell, whose body camera captured the shooting, testified that he didn’t fire at the car because he didn’t fear for his life.
Few testified that he never heard any warnings before two officers fired. He said he learned of his son’s death when he regained consciousness at a hospital six days after the shooting, on the day of Jeremy’s funeral.
Stafford, a Marksville police lieutenant, and Greenhouse, a former Marksville police officer, were moonlighting as deputies for the city marshal on the night of the shooting.
Greenhouse, whose father is a longtime prosecutor in Marksville, resigned from the Marksville Police Department in 2014.
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