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Deputy killer deserves life in prison, prosecutor says

Published October 18, 2012 6:20 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Flagstaff, Ariz. • A man who pleaded guilty to fatally shooting a Utah sheriff's deputy would kill again if given the chance and has no remorse, a prosecutor said in urging a judge to sentence the man to natural life in prison.

Jonathan Moser made the comments on the first day of Scott Curley's sentencing hearing in Coconino County Superior Court on Thursday. Curley pleaded guilty last month in the 2010 death of Kane County sheriff's Deputy Brian Harris and to charges of burglary, aggravated assault and theft in an agreement with prosecutors.

Moser used Curley's own words to show that Curley was not feeble-minded, knew what he did was wrong and that he has no respect for law enforcement, regard for society's rules or empathy for others, despite a mental illness.

Defense attorney Brad Bransky said Curley had schizophrenic delusions and shot Harris in what he believed was self-defense on a battlefield. With the proper treatment to control those delusions, "he's not going to be any more dangerous than a person walking around on the street."

"It is our position that this killing of Deputy Harris came about as an unexpected event where Mr. Curley was trying to escape with this weapon to fulfill his mission," Bransky said in arguing for a sentence that would make Curley parole-eligible after 25 years.

Prosecutors led witnesses through the theft of an assault rifle from the home of Curley's childhood friend to a scene in which Curley held a school custodian at gunpoint. The assault spurred a search for Curley. Once he shot Harris, he fled into the wilderness along the Arizona-Utah border and was captured four days later in Kanab.

Kane County sheriff's Sgt. Ted Barnard described how he and Harris approached a juniper tree where Curley was hiding and a short exchange during which Harris told Curley to "show me your hands," and Curley told him to "freeze," before two shots were fired. One of them fatally struck Harris.

Curley later told an expert interviewing him from jail that "I really tried to give him a warning. I said, 'freeze' and I meant it. As soon as I seen that assault rifle pulled on me, I saw my life in danger and I shot him."

Barnard returned fire, retreating behind a tree before turning his attention to Harris, who had fallen on the ground. In the meantime, Curley fled. Barnard said that he tried to reassure his partner that he'd be OK but "I knew that he was dead."

Curley said in video clips played Thursday that he had picked the spot under a tree to rest during his time on the lam. Authorities have said that he laid in wait and ambushed Harris.

Curley already had acknowledged his guilt to authorities and mental health experts before formally pleading guilty in the case, avoiding a weekslong trial and prosecution on pornography charges in another case. Curley's mental illness has never been in question, but the prosecution and defense disagreed on whether he could aid in his defense.

A judge ruled that he could.

Harris' family is expected to testify Friday during the second day of the sentencing hearing.