CROWN POINT, Ind. (CBS) — Lake Superior Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr. said he was reluctant to accept a plea agreement calling for probation for a retired firefighter who shot his ex-wife in the head.
After an emotion-filled sentencing hearing in which Otis G. Harris’ former wife said she didn’t want to take the case to trial and felt Harris needed intensive probation instead of a lengthy prison sentence, Stefaniak accepted the agreement that called for an eight-year sentence on probation and $11,269 in restitution.
“The damage is already done,” Terry Harris said. “He is being punished by having no contact with his daughter.”
The couple’s daughter, who is in her 20s, has special needs.
Harris, 75, who pleaded guilty to battery, a class C felony, admitted he shot Terry Harris on Dec. 18, 2010, at a home in the 9700 block of Buchanan Street, Crown Point. Terry Harris suffered serious bodily injury and has hearing loss and disfigurement as a result of the shooting. She told the judge something changed with her husband about four to five years ago in which he became “very irrational and scary.”
Deputy prosecutor Michelle Jatkiewicz told Stefaniak that criminal court cases aren’t always black and white. She said she had to balance her duty to prosecute individuals who commit crimes against her responsibility to be a voice for the victim.
Defense attorney Thomas Vanes said his client, a retired firefighter for 28 years and former Lake County coroner’s office employee, had lived a law-abiding life except for the shooting incident. After he shot Terry Harris, Otis Harris called his sister to pick up their daughter and told her he’d shot his wife.
Harris had faced from 20 to 50 years on an attempted murder charge, which was dismissed along with felony counts of aggravated battery and residential entry.
Stefaniak’s voice cracked with emotion as he described the task he does daily — trying to assess cases that highlight the dark side of life and the toll crimes take on families.
“This is probably one of the worst, or close to it,” the judge said. “It’s hard for an outsider to look at a case where a man shoots a woman in the head and fathom how that man shouldn’t go to prison.”
The judge, however, said that while he didn’t agree wholeheartedly with the plea agreement terms, he understood why Terry Harris would want the agreement “in light of what she’s gone through. She just wants to move on. I can’t say I blame her.”
Harris plans to transfer his probation to Georgia where he has family.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)