Flagstaff, Ariz. • The man who fatally shot a Utah sheriff’s deputy in 2010 was given life in prison Tuesday with the possibility of parole after 25 years, a discouraging sentence for those supporting the deputy but one that the man’s family saw as an opportunity to address his mental illness.
Scott Curley had pleaded guilty to killing Kane County Deputy Brian Harris with an assault rifle along the Arizona-Utah border in 2010. Curley saw the killing as part of a mission to protect the tri-force and himself, but authorities said it was a calculated killing in which Curley worked to cover his tracks along the way.
Coconino County Superior Court Judge Mark Moran said Tuesday that he believed it was necessary to balance Curley’s actions with his mental illness and diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. Moran gave Curley credit for 808 days served and also sentenced him to five years on a burglary charge and 7.5 years on an aggravated assault charge, which will run consecutive to the sentence for murder.
"The defendant is sick and suffers from a hideous disease that, if untreated, may hinder a person’s ability to think rationally and clearly and to act accordingly," Moran said. "Although this disease cannot serve as an excuse for Scott Curley’s behavior over several days in which he fled from authorities, it nonetheless explains why he did what he did."
Curley stood before Moran earlier and asked that the judge hear him out on his beliefs about protecting the tri-force and his desire to draw a diagram to better illustrate his point. He said he killed Harris because the deputy did not listen to his demands to freeze.
"When those men came after me, they took a risk and I chose to fight back," Curley said. "Man has a divine right to fight back."
Defense attorney Brad Bransky has said that Curley was led to kill by schizophrenic delusions that put him on a battlefield where he felt compelled to defend himself against law-enforcement officers he saw as vigilantes or bounty hunters and a threat to completing his mission. Bransky and Curley’s family had urged a judge to help Curley get the proper treatment to control those delusions.
Prosecutors have said that despite a mental illness, Curley exhibited a remarkable ability to plan out his crime spree and cover his tracks along the way. He had no respect for law enforcement, regard for society’s rules or empathy for others, they said in trying to prove that he is a danger to society and would kill again if given the chance.
"Any chance of freedom for Scott Curley is a gamble taken with the lives of members of this community," said prosecutor Jonathan Moser.
Harris, 41, was tracking Curley, who was wanted for burglary, when the deputy was ambushed in August 2010, authorities said. Following the shooting, Curley fled into the wilderness along the Arizona-Utah border. He was captured four days later near Kanab, Utah.
A five-week trial had been scheduled to start Oct. 9. Curley avoided that and prosecution on 10 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor in another case by pleading guilty to murder, burglary, theft and aggravated assault charges in the deputy’s case.
A judge had ruled that Curley was competent to stand trial.
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