Despite a defense attorney's assertion that his client should serve probation only, a judge sentenced a former Oklahoma police captain to four years in prison. Former Del City Police Captain Randy Trent Harrison was convicted in November of first degree manslaughter after he fatally shot an unarmed suspect in the back as he fled.
The Defendants Case
Harrison's defense team said that the police captain shot the suspect, 18-year-old Dane Scott, Jr., after the two had already scuffled following a traffic stop. The defense argued that Scott had been armed and tried to kill Harrison, and that Harrison believed that the suspect was reaching for another weapon when the defendant fired four shots, including the shot that fatally wounded the fleeing suspect.
The prosecution argued that the fleeing man was no longer a threat to Harrison's safety nor to the safety of the public at large, because the police captain had already disarmed him. They argued that Harrison was out of line and acting unlawfully when shooting an unarmed man in the back. They said that the pursuit of Scott, whom Harrison had previously arrested for drug crimes on several occasions, was personal, not professional, and this clouded his judgement in shooting the fleeing man.
The jury agreed, and recommended a sentence of four years in prison, the minimum sentence for first degree manslaughter (read more here) in Oklahoma. On Wednesday, more than two months after Harrison's conviction, Oklahoma County District Judge Donald Deason sided with the jury, going against a pre-sentencing report that recommended probation only for the former police captain, who, up until the shooting, had an unblemished career.
However, prosecutors say he allowed both his personal vendetta and the use of hydrocodone to interfere with his judgement as a police officer. A local report says that at sentencing, Harrison apologized to Dane Scott's parents for letting the pursuit of their son become personal, and he admitted that if any other officer had been pursuing the fleeing young man, their son would be in jail, not dead.
He said, "My heart goes out to Dane Scott's family. There is no good outcome for this. I'm not going to say their son's life isn't worth anything." Harrison's defense team plans to appeal. A motion to rush judgement and a motion for a new jury have already been denied and overruled.
Oklahoma's Manslaughter Laws
First degree manslaughter is defined in 21 O.S. 711 of the Oklahoma Criminal Code:Homicide is manslaughter in the first degree in the following cases:
- When perpetrated without a design to effect death by a person while engaged in the commission of a misdemeanor.
- When perpetrated without a design to effect death, and in a heat of passion, but in a cruel and unusual manner, or by means of a dangerous weapon; unless it is committed under such circumstances as constitute excusable or justifiable homicide.
- When perpetrated unnecessarily either while resisting an attempt by the person killed to commit a crime, or after such attempt shall have failed.
The jury found that Harrison's actions fell under the third circumstance defining first degree manslaughter. First degree manslaughter is a felony punishable by a minimum of four years in prison. It is one of Oklahoma's 85 percent crimes, which means that anyone convicted of first degree manslaughter must serve a minimum of 85 percent of his or her sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
Furthermore, anyone convicted of first degree manslaughter must register with the Oklahoma Violent Offender Registry in compliance with the Mary Rippy Violent Crime Offenders Registration Act.