Misdemeanor Assault Becomes Manslaughter When Victim Dies

After throwing a single punch at a bar in Edmond, Oklahoma, a man is charged with first degree manslaughter, a felony which carries a potential sentence of four years to life in prison. Bruce Walter Garrison, 63, was charged with the felony earlier this week and booked into the Oklahoma County Jail before being released on $10,000 bond. The incident which led to his arrest occurred on September 6, 2013. Garrison was playing pool with a friend at Majors in Edmond, and left his belongings in a seat. When he returned to his seat, he found 47-year-old Robert Hirsch sitting there. Garrison asked Hirsch to leave, and the two got into a skirmish. Garrison admitted, "I lost my temper and smacked him one time. I didn't hit him that hard." Hirsch stumbled, falling into another customer. Video shows that Hirsch never even hit the ground after Garrison struck him. Hirsch left by taxi, and the taxi driver called 911 when his fare could not get out of the cab. Hirsch was transported to OU Medical Center where he underwent emergency surgery to remove part of his skull to relieve pressure on the brain. He died several days later. Although the medical examiner ruled Hirsch's death a homicide caused by blunt force trauma to the head, the treating doctor said the underlying cause was that Hirsch was already critically ill, a fact that was unknown to Garrison when he took a swing at the man in his seat. Hirsch's head injury was complicated by an advanced case of cirrhosis of the liver. The physician told police that Hirsch was "going to die soon no matter what," and that "his cirrhosis is what killed him." Unfortunately for Garrison, what would have been a misdemeanor assault and battery charge under ordinary circumstances has become a felony manslaughter charge, simply because of the frail health of the victim. Despite the treating physician's statement to police, the state medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, and the Oklahoma County District Attorney has filed criminal charges commensurate with the M.E.'s finding. The maximum penalty for assault and battery is only 90 days in jail. First degree manslaughter, however, is a felony punishable by a minimum of four years in prison. Furthermore, as a violent crime, it is listed as one of the Oklahoma's "85 Percent" crimes--those which mandate a person convicted serve a minimum of 85 percent of the sentence before becoming eligible for parole. If convicted of manslaughter and given only the minimum sentence, Garrison would have to spend more than three years in prison for a "smack" that wasn't even "that hard." Garrison's defense lawyer says that his client is not responsible for Hirsch's death, a claim that the treating physician's statements seem to support. He said that Garrison will plead not guilty to first degree manslaughter. A search of the Oklahoma court records database shows no criminal history for Garrison.

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