MARKSVILLE — Former Marksville deputy marshal Derrick Stafford was sentenced to 40 years in prison Friday, a week after an Avoyelles Parish jury found the 33-year-old former policeman guilty in the fatal shooting of a 6-year-old boy and the wounding of the boy's father.

Stafford, who apologized to the boy's father and asked for leniency, was convicted of manslaughter in the death of Jeremy Mardis, an autistic first grader, and attempted manslaughter in the wounding of Chris Few, the boy's 26-year-old father.

But Judge William Bennett, who presided over the week-long trial, decided to impose the four-decade sentence — the maximum for manslaughter, and a prison term Stafford's attorneys described at the hearing as essentially a life sentence — after reading an eight-page statement from the bench.

Bennett called Stafford "a good man" but described the hail of gunfire unleashed by Stafford and a fellow deputy, Norris Greenhouse Jr., at the end of a two-mile pursuit on Nov. 3, 2015, as "a senseless tragedy" for which Stafford was justly convicted.

"The shooting simply should never have happened," Bennett said.

Stafford, shackled and wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, reiterated that he never knew the child was in the car and expressed remorse for the boy's death. While standing before the judge, Stafford turned and, looking directly at Few, apologized for the shooting and the loss of Few's son. "I have kids, man," he said.

But Stafford continued to maintain that Few posed a threat when Stafford opened fire on his small SUV at the end of the chase.

"I did believe there was a threat and I tried to stop it," Stafford said.

Both Stafford and his attorneys also stressed his 13-year law enforcement career during the sentencing hearing. For more than a decade, Jonathan Goins told the court, Stafford "was putting his life on the line each and every night" while "we've been sleeping in our beds."

The judge acknowledged Stafford's service but said the jury rejected his claims of self-defense. Though Bennett faulted Few for refusing to pull over when Greenhouse first flipped on the lights of his patrol car, the judge said evidence at trial showed Few posed no threat and was trying to surrender when the shooting began.

A video of the shooting, captured on the body camera of a third officer and shown several times during the trial, shows Few raising his hands out the window of the Kia Sportage during the shooting.

"He shot 14 times while my hands were in the air," Few said Friday morning while addressing the court. "He just kept shooting."

Choking back tears, Jeremy's maternal grandmother, Cathy Mardis, told the judge Friday that Few hadn't been a perfect father to Jeremy but did the best he could, driving long distances to visit the boy in Mississippi before bringing him to live in Avoyelles Parish months before the shooting.

"I miss Jeremy so much," Mardis said. "I expected more than just six years with him."

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Jeremy, the boy's grandmother said before asking for the harshest possible sentence, "didn't just die. He died a brutal, miserable, lonely death filled with pain."

Stafford was indicted on counts of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder but was convicted on a 10-2 jury vote of the lesser charges of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter. Those charges combined carried a maximum prison sentence of 60 years.

Greenhouse was also indicted on counts of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder. He's currently slated for trial in June.

As sheriff's deputies walked him from the courtroom, Stafford touched his wife and relatives, whispered his love and leaned in to offer a single, final hug before being led away.

After he'd been loaded into a waiting Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Office SUV for the drive to jail, several of Stafford's relatives — who'd packed the courtroom Friday to show support for the former officer and father of three — erupted in anger over the proceedings and the 40-year sentence.

Stafford's aunt, Bertha Andrews, blasted the jury's verdict as a "lynching" and said race — both Stafford and Greenhouse are black while Few and Jeremy are both white — motivated the entire case.

"If it had been two white men who killed that little baby, it would've been justifiable homicide. If it had been a black baby, it would've been justifiable homicide," Andrews said to a crowd of reporters and television cameras before turning her ire on the media, which she blamed for "demonizing" her nephew.

Can't see video below? Click here.


His attorneys, meanwhile, told reporters they expected to present a strong case on appeal and noted — despite their contention in court minutes earlier that their client likely wouldn't outlive a 40-year prison term — that the sentence offers Stafford a chance for eventual release.

 Can't see pdf of decision below? Click here.

Judge's sentencing decision in case of Derrick Stafford, former deputy marshal in Marksville, La.

Follow Bryn Stole on Twitter, @BrynStole.