By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The sentence for a Havre man serving 22 years in prison for three felony offenses has been cut in half.
Timothy T. Hall, 35, successfully appealed a 2001 sentence handed down by former District Judge John Warner and was resentenced during a hearing Tuesday in the Hill County Courthouse. Under the new sentence imposed by District Judge John McKeon, Hall will serve 11 years in prison.
"I felt like crying, frankly," Hall's attorney, Jeremy Yellin, said today. "Sometimes it's difficult to get justice, and Tim got justice yesterday."
In December 2001, Warner sentenced Hall to 11 years in prison on charges of theft and being a persistent felony offender, to run consecutively with an 11-year sentence imposed in July 2001 for a felony forgery charge.
Hall appealed to the state Supreme Court, claiming the second sentence was unconstitutional. The appeal claimed Hall was punished for going to trial rather than accepting a plea bargain with prosecutors.
Court records show Warner told Hall he approved of a plea agreement that would have made the second 11-year sentence run concurrently with the first, meaning he would not have to serve any additional prison time. Hall rejected the plea agreement and was convicted by a jury of felony theft. Warner then sentenced Hall to six years in prison for the theft charge with an additional five years on a charge of being a persistent felony offender. He ordered the sentences to run consecutively with the 11-year sentence for forgery.
Yellin argued on appeal that the sentence effectively punished Hall for exercising his constitutional right to a trial by jury. Because Warner indicated before the trial that he would make the sentence for the plea bargain concurrent with the older sentence, and then failed to explain why he opted to make them consecutive, it appeared he punished Hall for going to trial, Yellin said.
The Supreme Court agreed and overturned Warner's sentence. The case was sent back to District Court for Hall to be resentenced. By that time, Warner had resigned as district judge to serve on the state Supreme Court. His replacement, David Rice, recused himself from the case because he was the Hill County attorney at the time Hall was convicted.
McKeon resentenced Hall to six years in prison on the charge of felony theft and eight years on the charge of being a persistent felony offender, with three years suspended. The two sentences will run concurrently with the 11-year sentence for forgery.
"Essentially he cut 11 years off the sentence," Yellin said. "McKeon essentially saved Tim's life. The prosecution was asking for 25 additional years. The guy is 35 years old. If McKeon had done what the state wanted him to do, he'd get out at like age 68."
Deputy Hill County Attorney Gina Bishop had sought a sentence of 25 years in prison to run consecutively with the 11-year sentence. The sentence was the same prosecutors sought from Warner in 2001.
Hall's progress in prison may have influenced McKeon's decision to reduce his sentence, Yellin said. Hall has been a model prisoner at Crossroads Correctional Center in Shelby and has enrolled in a number of programs teaching life skills and aimed at rehabilitating prisoners, Yellin said.
"Whatever programs they offer, he's taking them," Yellin said. "He's making use of what they have available. Tim is really striving to improve himself."
Hall is one of three prisoners at Crossroads who have been approved to work on the outside fence crew, Yellin said.
Under McKeon's sentence, Hall will be released from prison in about nine years. Yellin said parole is unlikely because of Hall's record. He has a number of previous felony convictions, including convictions in 1987, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1996 for theft or burglary.
The felony theft and persistent felony offender charges stemmed from a Jan. 12, 2001, theft at R&R Studio of Havre, in which $27,000 of equipment was stolen. Among other things, a laptop computer, photography equipment, several cameras, film, a portable compact disc player and cash were taken from the store. While serving Hall a warrant for the forgery charge, sheriff's deputies discovered the stolen merchandise.
His jury trial lasted two days. He was acquitted of felony burglary charges but found guilty of one count each of felony and misdemeanor theft. Based on his previous criminal record, Warner designated him a persistent felony offender, an offense that carries additional prison time.