Probation for Murder: A Rare Sentence

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Friday morning, convicted murderer Patience Cooks received her sentence in 361st District Court. She'll serve 90 days of work release jail-time, along with 10 years probation. It's quite a rare sentence for a murder conviction, but it's a ruling with two schools of thought.

When asked what the first emotion Assistant District Attorney Jarvis Parsons had when Patience Cooks' sentence, he said, "Disappointment. We respect the jury's verdict. The jury worked hard. They were there for a long time. It's just our position that the law's not a popularity contest."

When the verdict is guilty, the door closes on the jury room, and a decision is made on punishment, work-release jail-time and probation generally aren't what you think of. But it's what most will think of when reflecting on Cooks' case, a woman guilty of stabbing her boyfriend through his heart. Parsons says his office always has and always will seek jail-time in a murder.

"I believe our sentence we asked for was 20 years, and we thought that was appropriate," Parsons said.

Of course, you'll get a different answer from the other side.

"I thought it was quite appropriate under the facts," said attorney Jim James, who represented Cooks. "Obviously, it's what we asked for."

James says anyone who sat through the trial would likely come to the same conclusion: that a woman with no criminal record, claiming frequent abuse by the boyfriend-turned-victim, and claiming self-defense didn't deserve jail time.

"The jury was out for eight or nine hours on guilt-innocence, and they were only out 40 minutes on punishment," James said.

For the district attorney's office, some frustration lies in the fact that more-often-than-not, lesser crimes get firmer punishments. For instance, a third DWI could land some in jail for a decade.

"Aggrevated assaults can range the whole gamut, from 10 years up to life in prison," Parsons said. "Every case is different, and every fact and situation is different."

"I don't think either side that is generally, emotionally involved in a case has the most objective viewpoint," James said. "That's why we get 12 citizens who don't have a dog in the hunt."

Citizens sometimes charged with sentencing, who sometimes come up with unique ones.

As part of her sentence, Cooks will also be required to attend anger management classes and pay restitution.

The defense had the option of choosing whether the judge or the jury would decide on punishment. If Judge Steve Smith was the choice, jail time would have been mandatory.