Judge to rule on ex-officers' pleas

Friday, March 28th 2008, 7:53 pm
By: News 9

Staff and Wire Reports

NORMAN, Okla. -- A Cleveland County judge found two former Noble police officers guilty of second-degree manslaughter on Friday in the accidental shooting death of a 5-year-old boy, but he declined to immediately rule on a plea deal for the men.

District Judge Tom Lucas said he will render a decision Monday morning on whether to accept the agreement between prosecutors and Robert Shawn Richardson, 30, and Paul Bradley Rogers, 34.

Both men pleaded no contest to the charges and tearfully apologized to the parents of Austin Gabriel Haley during a disposition hearing that lasted more than two hours.

"I have wanted to do this for so long but I didn't know how to say it," Richardson said, looking at the boy's family while sobbing. "... My heart goes out to you all."

Rogers said he "would trade places with (Austin) in a heartbeat if I could ... I can't imagine what you've gone through. I can never understand your pain or feel what you've gone through."

Austin died Aug. 3 when a bullet from one of the officers' guns ricocheted and hit him while he was outside fishing with his grandfather. The officers were in a neighbor's yard, firing at a snake in a birdhouse, according to police reports.

"I accepted the apology for sure, and we really appreciate that, we really do," said Renee Haley, Austin's mother.

Richardson, Rogers and a third officer, Michelle Key, later were fired for their roles in the shooting. An investigation revealed the bullet that killed Austin came from Rogers' .357-caliber handgun.

Key, the first officer to arrive on the scene, was not charged in the case.

After 13 of Austin's relatives and a Noble resident unrelated to the family spoke during the hearing, Lucas called their statements "the most emotional testimony or statements that I've heard" in 44 years as either an attorney or a judge. Because of that, he said he "should get a clearer head" before making a ruling in the case.

Under the plea agreement, Richardson and Rogers each would receive a two-year deferred prison sentence, meaning they likely would not have to spend any actual time behind bars. They also would pay a $500 fine and a $500 victims compensation assessment and surrender their police certification.

Cleveland County First Assistant District Attorney David Brockman said the proposed sentence is comparable to what prosecutors would offer in a negligent homicide case involving a vehicular accident.

"If it's an appropriate resolution for Joe Smith on the street, it's an appropriate resolution for these officers," Brockman said.

Austin's family opposes the plea agreement, saying the former officers should spend 30 to 90 days in jail. They also expressed concern that Richardson and Rogers would be able to return to law enforcement in the future, although attorneys for both men said that would be unlikely, since the former officers had been fired from the Noble force.

"Accountability has to come into play a precedent has to be set and an example has to be made for the future," said Jack Haley, Austin's father.

The former officers did not want to talk to the media following today's hearing. Judge Lucas plans to resume the hearing Monday morning.