A judge sentenced the former owner of a central Phoenix antique store to seven years in prison today for the 2006 fatal shooting of an unarmed homeless man.
Roger Garfield, who was profiled in New Times' March 11 edition, had been hassled for weeks at his store at 7th Avenue and McDowell Road by local transient Robert Cain. Despite being told he was trespassing, Cain kept coming back to the store to harangue Garfield.
The store owner claimed he was terrified of Cain and shot him four times in self defense during their final confrontation. Yet Cain had been unarmed, and employees at the store told police (and New Times) that Garfield had been spoiling for trouble.
Garfield was convicted of manslaughter on April 9, 2009, but won temporary freedom last year when the State Legislature -- in trying to help NRA posterboy Harold Fish -- ruled that changes to Arizona's self-defense law should be applied retroactively.
Unfortunately for Garfield, the state Court of Appeals then ruled that the law, which went into effect on April 24, 2006, wasn't retroactive. Since the shooting occurred on April 9, 2006, Garfield missed out on the chance for a new trial -- which was just fine with Cain's family members.
"You killed a beautiful person!" cried Cain's adoptive sister, Judy Anderson, to Garfield when it was her turn to speak before Judge Cari Harrison.
During her impassioned speech, Anderson derided Garfield for his "meanness" and said she hoped that someday Garfield would understand that Cain was merely looking for some respect.
Another sister, Theresa Pennington, tearfully read a letter from Cain's adoptive parents, A.J. and Mae, who remained seated in the courtroom, and from Cain's biological sister, Barbara, who lives in Texas.
Garfield and his lawyer, Larry Debus, explained that it was legal strategy, not a lack of feeling, that kept Garfield from expressing his sorrow to the family over the last few years. Debus also told Judge Harrison that Garfield had not meant to disrespect the court when he blew off his verdict hearing last year. As the March 11 article describes, Garfield -- believing correctly he was about to be found guilty -- drove the Grand Canyon and contemplated suicide before being taken into custody. He ultimately changed his mind.
With little emotion in his voice, Garfield told Harrison, "I am very remorseful that Robert Cain is dead. I feel for the family... I hope the family will forgive me over time."
Family members were looking for something on the harsher side of the seven- to 21-year sentencing range mandated in Garfield's case.
But Harrison said that Garfield, who had never been in trouble with the law before, had plenty of factors in his favor to allow for a lighter sentence. Before giving Garfield the seven years, she said she hoped Cain's family understood her decision wasn't meant to disrespect the deceased man.
"This is a difficult case," said Harrison. "Unfortunately, I think Mr. Garfield made some poor decisions ... that led to this really tragic event."
Garfield will get credit for about 200 days in jail he's already served.
But he's still got a lifeline in the water.
The Arizona Supreme Court still hasn't ruled on last year's decision by the appeals court. If the High Court decides that the new self defense law is retroactive, Garfield will be granted a new trial.
What won't change, though, are the facts in the case.
Garfield had other options besides shooting an unarmed man who was scarcely bigger than he was.
We doubt a new jury would see Garfield's extreme reponse to Cain any differently.