Shooting suspect accepts plea

By Mike Linn: CNJ news editor

A man accused of shooting a Clovis police detective in December of 2002 signed a plea agreement Friday that could result in a jail sentence of more than 30 years.

Timothy Burke, 52, agreed to plead guilty to aggravated battery on a police officer, three counts of aggravated assault on a police officer and possession of methamphetamine, District Attorney Matt Chandler said.

Burke is accused of shooting detective Keith Bessette, who has since recovered from injuries to his arm after police served a search warrant on Dec. 6, 2002, for a home in the 300 block of Upsilon Street. Police shot back and hit Burke, now a paraplegic living in an assisted medical facility near Silver City.

“I’m glad he’s going to be held accountable for his actions,” Police Chief Bill Carey said. “I think one of the problems we have today is people don’t necessarily want to accept the consequences of their actions.”

The agreement will not be final until Feb. 21, when Burke is scheduled to be sentenced for the crimes, which carry a maximum punishment of 32 1/2 years in prison, Chandler said. At any point up until Feb. 21 Burke can withdraw his plea and face a jury trial on the charges, Chandler said.

“It’s just as if we would have gone to trial and got a guilty conviction on all the charges, (but) it’s not official and final until the judge accepts it,” Chandler said.

Former District Attorney Brett Carter sought a plea agreement for Burke in August, which would have him plead guilty of four of the charges. But Clovis police were against the idea and wanted Burke to face a trial.

District Judge Stephen Quinn agreed, and subsequently denied the plea agreement, which would have allowed Burke to serve a 28 1/2-year sentence at the medical facility rather than in prison.

Chandler said he will ask that Burke be sentenced to the department of corrections and transferred from the medical facility.

“We have verification that the department of corrections can accept people with paralysis. So we fully intend to ask the judge to sentence him to prison. If someone shoots a police officer, regardless of their physical or mental condition, they should serve their sentence in a lock-down facility,” Chandler said.

Officials have said Bessette is the first Clovis police officer in at least 25 years to be shot.