The Associated Press
WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. (AP) - A man being pursued by a police officer who crashed his patrol car and lost his life has been convicted of manslaughter and fleeing and sentenced to 60 years in prison.
Mertin Fondren, 30, had been charged with first-degree murder, but jurors opted for the lesser charge when they returned their verdict Thursday. After further deliberations, the jury decided on a 30-year-sentence - the maximum - for manslaughter, and tacked on another 30 years for fleeing a police officer, plus a year in jail for theft.
As requested by the jury, the sentences are to run consecutively.
Fondren and two other men were charged after West Memphis Police Officer Michael Waters died Sept. 11, 2003, when his patrol car crashed while pursuing suspects in a convenience-store theft.
Terrell Kinnell and Otis Vernell Graham pleaded guilty to theft charges in August.
Fondren was the driver of the car being chased by Waters after the theft of $650 worth of candy from the Save-A-Lot grocery store in West Memphis. Kinnell and Graham were passengers.
Waters was chasing the suspects eastbound on I-55 through a construction zone. Fondren drove his car through construction barrels on a closed lane of the interstate. Waters' patrol car struck a concrete barricade, flipped over and ejected him from the vehicle. Waters was then struck by another vehicle.
"In the area where he was driving there was a lot of dust and low visibility caused by the driver as he fled from officers. Officer Waters' accident was caused from pursuing this guy," Assistant Police Chief Mike Allen said.
Robert Hester, a police trainee, was a passenger in the patrol car and was injured.