By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer
A Clovis man convicted of voluntary manslaughter in September was sentenced to eight years in prison Monday by a district judge.
James Rogers, 44, received the maximum for voluntary manslaughter of six years, an additional year for a firearm enhancement and another for aggravated circumstances.
A Curry County jury convicted Rogers of shooting and killing David Wilt, 47, on Sept. 9, 2003, at a mutual friend’s home at 4220 N. Prince Street.
Wilt’s sister held a picture of her slain brother and his son in court Monday as she tearfully testified in the 9th Judicial District courtroom.
“The last thing my brother saw was the face and eyes of the man who killed him,” said Dr. Leslie Rebtoy from Westville, Okla., in testimony. “As a human he had rights, and those rights were taken from him on September 9th (2003).”
Rogers’ attorney, Arthur L. Bustos of Las Vegas, N.M., turned the podium toward the Wilt’s family and friends, remarking that he didn’t want to talk about the victim with his back turned to the family.
“I agree with the verdict that a life was taken,” Bustos said, “(but) no amount of punishment will bring back David Wilt.”
Several his family members testified Rogers is a good worker and a kind, non-violent person. Rogers apologized to the family and got choked up as he told Wilt’s family about how the two of them used to ride motorcycles together.
“I’m eternally sorry to the family for what happened,” Rogers said, adding, “I’m not a homicidal maniac; I did what I did out of fear.”
Part of Rogers’ defense was he believed Wilt was reaching for a gun the day of the shooting. However, prosecutors said at least 10 feet were between the two men at the time of the shooting, including a small picket fence.
Both sides read from a state diagnostic report ordered by Judge Joe Parker in December.
Prosecutors selected passages from the report that indicated Rogers “has few coping skills,” shows hostility and may manifest psychotic behavior.
However, Bustos read excerpts that showed Rogers did not have a violent history and that he was “realistic” and “socially extroverted.”
“It’s clear from the presentencing report that my client has no criminal history to speak of,” Bustos said. “I believe that justice will be better served if my client is placed on probation,” adding that Rogers is willing to pay restitution to the family if that would help.
District Attorney Matthew Chandler rebuffed the idea Wilt’s family would want restitution in this case, insisting that Rogers get the maximum sentence in jail for the crime.
Parker noted court testimony from the trial demonstrated Wilt was wearing shorts and no shirt at the time of the shooting, so concealing a weapon would have been difficult or impossible. Parker handed down the sentence, just one year shy of the maximum, in an otherwise silent and highly civilized courtroom.
“We are as happy as we can be,” Rebtoy said after the hearing was over, noting that the penalties for manslaughter are not strict in New Mexico.
After the hearing Bustos said he may ask for a reconsideration of the sentence, believing elements of the crime were presented incorrectly in the hearing.
Rogers will be given credit for 19 months he has served in jail since the shooting.