Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

January 29, 2013

Remorse still leads to prison term

Barry Porterfield
Pauls Valley Democrat — One defendant’s remorse won’t be enough to keep him out of prison as the sentence was given Monday for a man who admitted to causing the injuries that killed his uncle in Wynnewood nearly two years ago.

The moment of truth came for 21-year-old Zachary Deitrick, who was handed what proves to be an eight-year prison term with another dozen years suspended.

Deitrick initially faced a murder charge after he fought with his uncle, Gregory Cook, and his father at a Wynnewood residence on April 18, 2011. Cook died later that same night for the injuries he suffered in the fight.

The criminal charge against Deitrick was later amended to a first-degree manslaughter allegation.

District Judge Greg Dixon carefully listened to arguments on both sides before handing down his ruling on Deitrick’s sentence.

“This is not an easy decision for the court,” Dixon said directly to the defendant.

“It’s very difficult to know if a defendant is truly remorseful,” he said. “I think you have satisfied a lot of people in that you’re remorseful for your actions.”

The judge was quick to add there was a death in the case for “a person who didn’t deserve to die.”

Prosecutor Tara Portillo agreed it was clear Deitrick was truly sorry for his actions but punishment was still needed in this case.

“His remorse is heartfelt, but a human life was still taken,” she said.

The assistant district attorney then asked for Deitrick to be given a 20-year prison sentence to go along with a number of programs both in and out of jail, such as community service hours that could benefit school children.

“That could include a school assembly where he talks about the dangers of drinking,” Portillo said.

Deitrick’s defense attorney, Arlan Bullard, said although Cook’s death was an accident, the case shows what the terrible aftermath can be when alcohol is abused.

“This is truly a morality tale for modern times,” Bullard said.

“It seems the bulk of bad decisions many times are rooted in alcohol,” he said. “The alcohol fueled the bad decision, but the death was an accident. It was a terrible, horrible thing but it was an accident.

“His remorse isn’t because he got caught but because his uncle is dead. He’s got to live with that the rest of his life.”

Bullard asked for Deitrick to get a four-year prison sentence with two of those years behind bars and the rest suspended. He agreed various conditions for probation and community service later on were good ideas for Deitrick.

A few weeks ago Deitrick changed his plea to guilty and without a plea agreement with prosecutors threw himself at the mercy of the court.

Before Monday’s sentencing in a Garvin County District courtroom a pre-sentence investigation had been completed and filed for the case. Included in the report were Deitrick’s own words offered in a written statement.

Deitrick admitted to drinking whiskey and beer starting the afternoon of the 2011 incident claiming the life of Cook.

“I drank so much that I’d blacked out,” he stated in the report.

The defendant indicated it was a daily thing for his father and uncle to get into a fight. On this particular night Deitrick claims he as just trying break up their dispute.

At one point he said he was walking his uncle back to a camper when Cook started a fight with him.

“My uncle grabbed me by the throat and in reaction I hit him in the forehead,” Deitrick stated.

“My mind or memory blanks out after turning around and walking away. I was told I called family members crying saying I beat my dad and uncle up,” he said in the report, adding his uncle later died from his injuries.

“I cannot defend myself on something I cannot remember.”