by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Thomas KnappMadras resident Thomas Knapp, 18, received a prison sentence of five years, eight months, on April 17, in Jefferson County Circuit Court, in regards to an incident where he shot his girlfriend Jessica Haynes in the face with a handgun.

In the negotiated agreement, he pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree assault with a firearm, a Class B felony, (which can have a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000).

Numerous members of Haynes’ family were present in the courtroom, and she arrived in a wheelchair to hear the change of plea and sentencing.

Judge Daniel Ahern reviewed the plea agreement asking, “On Nov. 30, you (Knapp) recklessly caused serious injury to Jessica Haynes with a firearm, a crime that constitutes domestic violence?”

“Yes, your honor,” Knapp responded.

State prosecutor Deputy District Attorney Wade Whiting, gave his version of what happened. He said Knapp and Haynes, who were living together, had been fighting earlier in the day. That night, Knapp borrowed a gun from a neighbor, went back to their apartment, pointed the gun at her while she was in bed, and said, “Bang, you’re dead,” as he pulled the trigger.

“The gunshot did extensive damage to her. A neighbor heard the gunshot and him yelling that he’d shot her. 911 was not called while he was trying to hide drug paraphernalia. Then he called 911 and said it was an accident,” Whiting said.

“That showed extreme indifference to the value of human life. Jessica Haynes will never be the same. With extensive injuries, her courage has allowed her to reach (the level) she is now. Jessica Haynes is essentially serving a life sentence because of what happened. He will only have a 70 month sentence,” Whiting said.

The state asked to postpone the amount it would be requesting for restitution, since her medical bills are still accumulating.

Family members were then given a chance to speak. David Haynes, father of the victim, said, “Jessica’s medical bills are topping $600,000, she has no use of her left hand and leg, her right eye, no peripheral vision in her left eye, and can’t use the right side of her face. Hers is a life sentence, and it’s not right that he gets off with just 70 months. He should have to suffer what my daughter does.”

Next Jessica Haynes was wheeled by her father next to the defendant’s desk, where he could see her. Speaking for her, her father said, “She’s had three surgeries on her brain already and has one to go. She wants the defendant to look at her.”

Brother-in-law Marc Heckathorn spoke about Knapp’s crime saying, “He showed no remorse – hiding evidence and not rendering aid – and that’s what he’s continued to do (not show remorse). His act was completely intentional. No accident stems from that (pointing a gun and pulling the trigger).”

Betty Taylor, a friend of the victim, stated, “One day, this man will be judged before God for what he’s done, while you (Ahern) judge him here on earth. I ask that you take the power you have today and judge him for what he’s done, give him what he deserves to have.”

Defense attorney Frederick Bennett then gave his version of what happened, first saying, “This was an incalculable tragedy and there is nothing we can say to alleviate the pain and emotional stress that they have felt.”

“My client, when I’ve met with him, has been deeply concerned about her welfare and has asked me how she was doing and the extent of her recovery. I recognize a deep sense of remorse,” Bennett said.

Bennet said the event occurred within a matter of seconds. Knapp was at a neighbor’s house and saw a gun in a holster and asked if he could show it to Jessica. “He didn’t know what he was doing. He thought he had unloaded it. There was never an intention to cause an injury,” Bennett said.

The defendant was asked if he wanted to make a statement. “I have nothing to say at this time, your honor,” Knapp replied.

Judge Ahern noted that with the agreed upon mandatory minimum sentence, there was nothing extra in the state’s guidelines to accommodate the severity of Knapp’s crime. He was 18 at the time of the crime, with no adult record.

Addressing Knapp, Ahern said, “You will have to live with this the rest of your life – you know you caused somebody to lose the life they could have had.” Ahern cited Knapp’s recklessness and casual disregard for life by playing with a firearm. “Even if he were sentenced to 10 years, she would still be suffering,” he said.

Knapp was sentenced to 70 months in prison (five years, eight months) under Measure 11 guidelines, with credit for time served, with no eligibility for early release, three years post-prison supervision, and to pay restitution to the victim. The prosecution was given 60 days to compile figures on the amount of restitution.

In exchange for his change of plea, counts one, two, four, and five were dismissed.

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