In most cases, a minor bar fight will land a person with charges no more serious than simple assault and battery, a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 (21 O.S. § 644). When the act results in grave bodily injury or death, however, even minor force can lead to felony charges, having a lifelong impact on those involved.
Such is the case of Bruce Walter Garrison and Robert Hirsch.
In early September 2013, both Garrison and Hirsch were patrons of Majors, an Edmond bar. Garrison, who was playing pool with a friend, left his belongings in a seat and went to the restroom. When he returned, he found Hirsch sitting in his chair and told him to leave. Hirsch refused, and Garrison got mad. Garrison admitted, "I lost my temper and smacked him one time. I didn't hit him that hard." Hirsch stumbled, but didn't fall, and he didn't appear to be in any distress when the two men were kicked out of the bar.
In fact, Garrison's attorney says that the two men apologized to each other before Hirsch got into a cab to leave.
However, by the time the taxi arrived at its destination, the cab driver was unable to rouse Hirsch. The man was transported to a hospital with bleeding on the brain, and he died a week later when his ventilator was removed.
After Hirsch died, what would have been a simple assault and battery charge for Garrison became a first degree manslaughter charge, punishable by a minimum of four years in prison.
You see, what Garrison could not have known is that Hirsch was in end-stage liver failure. The "smack" that would have left a healthier man unscathed instead caused a fatal brain injury for the critically ill man.
Despite a physician's testimony that the victim was "going to die soon anyway," and his assertion that the man actually died of cirrhosis, the district attorney filed charges consistent with the medical examiner's ruling that Hirsch's cause of death was homicide.
Now, nearly two years after the fatal blow, the prosecution and the defense have reached an agreement in the case. Garrison entered an Alford plea--a plea in which the defendant maintains his innocence but acknowledges that the prosecution has enough evidence to convict him or her of the crime. In exchange for the Alford plea, which effectively acts as a guilty plea, Garrison was sentenced to 10 years, with all but the first 90 days suspended. Although he has a felony manslaughter conviction, the actual time served will be equivalent to the maximum penalty for assault and battery.
Image Credit: Ian T. McFarland