An Oklahoma jury found former volunteer sheriff’s deputy Robert Bates guilty of second-degree manslaughter after the 73-year-old mistook his gun for his Taser and shot Eric Courtney Harris during a felony sting operation, CNN, and multiple news outlets report.
Harris ran from officials moments after selling a gun to an undercover deputy. He was quickly brought to the ground, at which point Bates, who had been parked in a car several blocks away, approached the undercover agents with a gun in one hand and a Taser in the other, according to Assistant District Attorney John David Luton.
In a video taken at the incident, Bates can be clearly heard saying “Taser” (0:23 in the video above) and firing one round. He can then be heard saying, “Oh, I shot him. I’m sorry.”
According to the CNN report, defense lawyer Clark Brewster argued that, given the stress of the situation, Bates should be excused for his mistake. He displayed the Taser and the revolver, demonstrating the similar size and weight of both weapons.
Bates, Brewster said, “should be thanked for trying to help his fellow deputies.”
“He got out of his vehicle to man up and help,” Brewster said. “I truly believe you will find this was an accident driven to this point by the actions of Mr. Harris.”
The prosecution argued that Bates was criminally negligent and failed to exercise reasonable care.
Bates’ fellow deputies testified that the volunteer deputy should never have fired either weapon. To use a Taser safely “you’re supposed to wait to have a clear opening and then deploy,” said Deputy Ricardo Vaca. Vaca was one of the deputies who tackled Harris and believes Bates nearly killed him.
“I almost got killed,” Vaca said during the trial. “It makes me emotional. Inches to my right and I would have been killed.”
Deputies also testified that they observed Bates falling asleep in his car prior to the incident.
“Mr. Harris shouldn’t have been there that day, but it certainly didn’t give Bob Bates the right to kill him,” prosecutor Kevin Gray said.
One of the trial’s key considerations was whether or not Bates’ shot actually killed Harris. Two medical doctors testified for the defense, who agreed that the combination of a heart attack and a variety of drugs killed Harris, according to CNN and CBS News. But prosecution witness Cheryl Niblo, a forensic pathologist, testified that Harris’ death was a homicide caused by a gunshot.
Ultimately, the jury sided with the prosecution, deliberating less than three hours and recommending the maximum sentence of four years. Preliminary sentencing is set for May 31.