District Judge Glenn Braun wouldn’t go along Tuesday with a request to reduce the sentence for an Arizona man who already pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter.
Instead, Braun essentially said Truman T. Begay already had received a big enough break through the offer of a significantly reduced charge and a shorter prescribed sentence because he had no criminal background, as well as the likely prospect for a 15-percent reduction in prison time for good behavior.
Braun sentenced Begay to 55 months in prison rather than the 40 months contained in the plea agreement.
Braun had listened as court-appointed defense attorney Robert Anderson asked for the shorter sentence, one that had been agreed to by Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees. Together, they had reached a plea agreement reducing the second-degree murder charge initially facing Begay, substituting the voluntary manslaughter charge instead.
Braun also listened to an apology from Begay, the 22-year-old Blue Gap, Ariz., man who pleaded no contest to the charge, as well as an emotional pair of statements from Estelle Benally, the sister of Edmund M. Benally, 33, Winslow, Ariz., who died several days after a fight between the two men at America’s Best Value Inn, 2524 Vine, during the early morning hours of April 19.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Estelle Benally said her brother suffered for four days following the fight.
“We couldn’t afford to lose him,” she told the court. “Unfortunately, we did. Because of you.”
Begay never looked at Benally while she was on the witness stand, instead staring straight ahead at a blank wall.
In criminal cases, it’s standard procedure for judges to remind defendants that the agreements are binding on participants in the case — attorneys and the defendant — but not the court.
Typically, however, it’s not uncommon for judges to go along with the agreement, even if they struggle to fully accept its terms.
Braun broke away from that practice when he sentenced Begay to 55 months in prison — 15 months more than the 40 months Anderson and Drees were recommending.
“The defendant received the benefit of the plea bargain,” Braun said of the reduced charge from second-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter.
Had the original charge stood, he said, Begay would have been facing the possibility of receiving as much as 155 months in prison. Voluntary manslaughter calls for a 59-month sentence.
“So that was a 100-month reduction,” Braun said.
The judge noted that Benally, the victim, was “somewhat of an aggressor” in the events leading up to the fight that ultimately killed him. But he said Begay played a role in the “tragedy” as well.
“It’s a tragedy all across the board,” Braun said.
Braun said he believes Begay is sorry about what happened.
“But being sorry is not one of the mitigating factors,” he said.
Begay’s lack of a criminal history also played a role in Braun’s refusal to reduce the sentence.
“The state statute has already taken into account no criminal history,” he said. With that, Braun sentenced Begay to 55 months in prison.
“Not the 40 months you were bargaining for, but 55 months,” he said.
He already has spent 164 days in jail, reducing his prison term by that much.
Restitution also was ordered, in the amount of $44,697 — $34,000 of which was for the cost of airlifting Benally to Wichita.
Drees said he’s not yet received word on the bill from either Hays Medical Center or the Wichita hospital where he died.