Mar 7, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff WriterWeighing a defendant's intentions against the outcome of his actions led a judge to sentence Shey Elan Bruce on Thursday to four to 10 years in prison for manslaughter. The penalty was between those recommended by the defense and prosecutors.
"I would like to just apologize," Bruce said. "I never meant anything to happen of this nature. I'm just trying to seek a better life and do right."
A jury in November decided Bruce killed Charles Darrell Laster, 65, of Shoshoni in May. According to witnesses, Bruce struck Laster in the head with a beer bottle, resulting in the man's death.
Prosecutors charged Bruce with second-degree murder, but the jury decided the evidence did not support that charge and instead found Bruce guilty of manslaughter. Jurors also found Bruce guilty of domestic violence battery for striking his girlfriend the same night he hit Laster.
Public defender Mitch Guthrie asked District Court Judge Norman E. Young to give his client probation and substance abuse treatment.
"There is a person who died as a result of your actions, and he was loved and missed," Young told Bruce.
Still, Young gave him a lighter sentence than the 10 to 16 years Fremont County deputy attorney Patrick LeBrun requested. The judge imposed no fine but ordered Bruce to repay the public defender's office $5,000.
The penalty for manslaughter can be anywhere from probation up to 20 years in prison according to statute.
Laster's stepdaughter, Teri Hughes, told the court Bruce's actions had painful consequences.
"I lost my dad in May 2013," she said. "My dad had his faults, but he was a great dad for me, and he was always there for his friends and family."
LeBrun said Bruce should have known what the outcome of his actions might be.
"If you hit someone 65 years old in the head who's not in the best of health, you might kill him," he said.
He said alcohol may have aggravated the situation but was not an excuse for Bruce's actions.
At the trial, jurors heard that both Bruce and Laster were drinking for hours before the attack.
"I have some confidence you and I agree Mr. Bruce did not mean for anybody to die that night," Guthrie said, referring to Young.
His client had a short criminal history, all related to drugs or alcohol, the defense lawyer said. When he is not drunk, Bruce is harmless, Guthrie said, suggesting addiction treatment combined with supervised probation and a half-way-house program would be an appropriate sentence for the defendant.
"When I judge someone as to their intentionality, their badness, their wickedness, it's not Mr. Bruce," he said.
Young agreed that Bruce would benefit from substance abuse treatment and recommended Bruce undergo an intensive program at the Department of Corrections' prison facility.
The judge also sentenced Bruce on the domestic violence conviction to six months in the Fremont County Detention Center to be served at the same time as the four to 10 years for manslaughter.
Bruce is to receive credit for time served, about 10 months, against both sentences. In effect, he already served the penalty for the domestic violence charge and would have 10 months taken off the longer sentence.
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