Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
MARKSVILLE, La. (AP) — A judge in central Louisiana refused Thursday to lower the $1 million bond he had set for a deputy city marshal charged with murder in the fatal shooting of a 6-year-old boy.
State District Judge William Bennett said it would be "totally unreasonable" to reduce Derrick Stafford's bond to approximately $150,000, the amount suggested by his defense lawyer. Bennett ruled after hearing testimony from several witnesses during Stafford's bond-reduction hearing.
Stafford and a second deputy city marshal, Norris Greenhouse Jr., were indicted last Thursday on charges of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder. They are scheduled to be arraigned on Jan. 5.
Police say the two Marksville deputy marshals opened fire on a car driven by Chris Few, killing his son, Jeremy Mardis, and critically wounding Few on the night of Nov. 3. Mardis had five gunshot wounds and his father had two, according to police.
Stafford, 32, of Mansura, has remained in jail since his arrest last month. Greenhouse, 24, of Marksville, already has been freed from jail on $1 million bond.
Stafford's attorney, Jonathan Goins, argued the bond was excessive and far beyond what his client's family could afford. Goins presented testimony from Stafford's wife, mother and other relatives and friends who expressed support for Stafford, calling him a dedicated officer and loyal family man.
Goins described his client, who has two children and a stepchild, as a "big teddy bear."
"He's not this monster that has been painted in the media," he said.
Assistant Attorney General John Sinquefield countered by telling the judge that "even very good people sometimes commit murder."
Although Stafford doesn't have a criminal record, he was indicted in 2011 on rape charges that were later dropped. Bennett cited those rape charges as a factor in his refusal to reduce bond.
Stafford also briefly testified at the hearing, but he wasn't asked any questions about the circumstances of the shooting. His testimony was limited to his claim that he can't afford to post a $1 million bond.
After the hearing, Stafford's wife said she believes that race was a factor in the decision by state authorities to bring charges in the case. Stafford and Greenhouse are both black. Few and his son are white.
"If (Stafford) was white, if his skin color was Caucasian, he would have not been charged," Brittany Stafford said. "If Chris Few and his son would have been black, there would have been none of this."
State Police investigated the shooting. Louisiana Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell's office is prosecuting the case because Avoyelles Parish District Attorney Charles Riddle recused himself. One of Riddle's longtime assistant prosecutors is Greenhouse's father.
Brittany Stafford described the shooting as an "accident" and expressed condolences to Jeremy Mardis' family, but she argued Few should bear some responsibility for the deadly encounter.
"You have your child in the car, you shouldn't have run from the police. You should have stopped," she said of Few.
Steven Lemoine, a lawyer for Few and Jeremy's other relatives, said the family was pleased with the judge's ruling. Asked about Brittany Stafford's comments, Lemoine said, "Obviously, they were not there. They're not privy to the evidence, nor are we."
Stafford, a Marksville police lieutenant, and Greenhouse, a former Marksville police officer, were moonlighting as deputy marshals on the night of the shooting. Stafford also worked part-time as a deputy city marshal in nearby Alexandria, but he was fired from that job following his arrest.
Marksville Police Sgt. Joseph Montgomery, one of Stafford's subordinates, described his supervisor as "hard" but "fair."
"He's going to treat you the way you treat him," Montgomery testified. "He can be aggressive if you pose a threat to him, but he has a heart of gold."