MARKSVILLE, LA (WAFB) - Derrick Stafford was convicted Friday night of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter in Marksville following a long week of testimony.
Attorneys for the state and for Stafford, as well as the 33-year-old's family members, spoke with the media shortly after the verdict.
Stafford was taken into custody by deputies with the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Office just moments after a jury convicted him of manslaughter for the death of Jeremy Mardis, 6, and attempted manslaughter of his father, Christopher Few.
"We would say that tonight we did get justice for Jeremy after a long time," John Sinquefield, lead prosecutor, said.
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Stafford faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison for manslaughter with a maximum of 40 years. As for the attempted manslaughter charge, he could face up to 20 more years in prison. Worst case, the former deputy marshal could be behind bars for 60 years. While it is not what they were hoping for, his attorneys said they are thankful for the lesser conviction.
"We are thankful that our client was not convicted of second-degree murder, which carries an automatic life sentence in Louisiana without the possibility of probation, parole or suspended sentence," said Jonathan Goins.
In a surprising move, Stafford took the stand Friday in his own defense. At one point, he became emotional, telling the jury he never meant to kill anyone the night he and other deputies gave chase to Christopher Few. He said had he known a child was in the car, he would have never fired his weapon.
Stafford also told jurors Friday that he has never watched the body camera video from that night, saying he cannot bear to relive those horrifying moments.
Goins said he believes that testimony may have made the difference in avoiding the second-degree murder conviction.
"Derrick's testimony did help him on today and it did sway the jury not to put him behind bars for the rest of his life," Goins added.
Earlita Stafford, the deputy city marshal's sister, was not happy with the verdict as she left the courthouse late Friday night. She maintains her brother did not get a fair shake in court, partly because of the public's perception of him.
"From November 5. 2015, I felt this was totally unfair," Earlita Stafford said. "The animal that Facebook, you news reporters, them people, the jury that y'all tried to make my brother be, he's not that type of person."
Stafford's attorneys are already working on a post-conviction bond to buy the 33-year-old more time with his family before he is sentenced. They also said they plan to appeal the decision. Christopher LaCour, Stafford's other attorney, said one thing that is more disappointing than the court's decision was the lack of support from other members of the law enforcement community.
"No officers supported this man in his time of need and all of them have been through situations like him," LaCour said. "You would think they would stand up for the man and they didn't."
Stafford is set to be sentenced on Friday, March 31, 2017.
Norris Greenhouse Jr., the other deputy marshal accused in the shooting death of Jeremy Mardis, will have his day in court. Greenhouse's trial is set to begin on June 12, 2017.