3rd Circuit Court upholds Stafford conviction, sentence

Derrick Stafford’s conviction and 40-year prison sentence in connection with the November 2015 shooting death of a 6-year-old boy has been upheld by the state 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal.

Stafford was a Marksville Police Department shift supervisor moonlighting as a city marshal’s deputy when he and fellow-deputy marshal Norris Greenhouse Jr. pulled over the car driven by Christopher Few. Both men claimed they feared for their lives when Stafford fired 14 bullets and Greenhouse fired four into the car, killing Jeremy Mardis and critically wounding Few.

Stafford was found guilty of manslaughter last March 24. He was sentenced to 40 years for the death of Jeremy and 15 for the attempted manslaughter of Few. However, District Judge William Bennett ordered the sentences to be served at the same time, not back-to-back, meaning the total sentence for both crimes is 40 years. He will not be eligible for parole for at least 20 years.

Stafford’s attorney appealed the conviction and sentence in April, alleging five errors by the court.

‘BAD ACTS’ EVIDENCE

One issue was the introduction of evidence of prior “bad acts” Stafford allegedly committed as a police officer. Another was the claim that his sentence is constitutionally excessive. A third was the court’s refusal to grant a mistrial based on prejudicial testimony of rape charges filed against Stafford several
years ago. Those charges were dismissed.

The other two “errors” were based on technical procedures with which the defense disagreed.

The court found no merit in any of the grounds for appeal.

Both Stafford and Greenhouse were initially tried on charges of 2nd degree murder and attempted 2nd degree murder.

Race became an issue during Stafford’s trial when defense attorneys claimed that the two black officers were arrested three days after the shooting of the white victims while black officers accused of shooting white victims often go unpunished.

Others in the community countered that had the officers been white and the victims black, “Marksville would have been burned to the ground” by riots.

Prosecutors maintained that race was not, and should not be, a factor in the prosecution of a crime.

Many in the community were upset with the “lenient” penalty for Stafford. Others were upset at the “excessive” penalty.

Greenhouse pleaded guilty prior to trial of negligent homicide and malfeasance by a police officer. He was sentenced to 5 years for negligent homicide and 2 1/2 for malfeasance, with the terms to run back-to-back. However, he could be eligible for parole in less than three years.

That sentence also provoked strong reactions on both sides of the argument. Many claimed Greenhouse was given preferential treatment because he comes from a well-respected Avoyelles Parish family. Stafford is from more modest means and is from Rapides Parish.

One of Stafford’s trial attorneys, Chris LaCour of Alexandria, said the disparity in the two men’s sentences speaks for itself.

Assistant Attorney General John Sinquefield said Greenhouse’s sentence was fair and consistent with the facts of the case.

One of the key factors in prosecutors’ decision to offer a deal was that forensic investigations could not match any of the bullets that struck the victims to Greenhouse’s firearm.

At last report, both men are serving their sentences in the state’s Wade Correctional Center in Claiborne Parish.

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