By AMY FORLITI, STEVE KARNOWSKI and TAMMY WEBBER
MINNEAPOLIS — The former suburban Minneapolis police officer who said she confused her handgun for her Taser when she fatally shot Daunte Wright was sentenced Friday to two years in prison, a penalty below state guidelines after the judge found mitigating factors warranted a lesser sentence.
Kim Potter was convicted in December of first- and second-degree manslaughter in the April 11 killing of Wright, a 20-year-old Black motorist. She was sentenced only on the more serious charge in accordance with state law.
For someone with no criminal history, such as Potter, the state guidelines on that charge range from slightly more than six years to about 8 1/2 years in prison, with the presumptive sentence being just over seven years.
Prosecutors said the presumptive sentence was proper, but defense attorneys asked for a sentence below the guidelines, including a sentence of probation only.
This is a breaking news update. A previous version of this report is below.
The mother of Daunte Wright said Friday she will never be able to forgive the former suburban Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed her son.
Addressing the court Friday during Kim Potter’s sentencing hearing for manslaughter, Katie Wright said she would only refer to Potter as “the defendant” because Potter only referred to her 20-year-old son as “the driver” at trial.
“She never once said his name. And for that I’ll never be able to forgive you. And I’ll never be able to forgive you for what you’ve stolen from us,” Katie Wright said.
“My life and my world will never ever be the same again,” she said.
Potter was convicted in December of first- and second-degree manslaughter in the April 11 killing. She’ll be sentenced only on the most serious charge of first-degree manslaughter, which carries a presumptive penalty of just over seven years in prison.
Prosecutor Matt Frank said Friday that he believes the presumptive sentence is appropriate, given the loss of life and Potter’s culpable negligence.
“His life mattered, and that life was taken,” Frank said. “His name is Daunte Wright. We have to say his name. He was not just a driver. He was a living human being. A life.”
The defense has asked for a lesser sentence, including one of probation only, but Frank said: “We are not agreeing to that your honor, but we have recognize this is a unique case. This is a very difficult case.”
Defense attorney Paul Engh told Judge Regina Chu that Wright’s death was “beyond tragic for everybody involved.” But, he added: “This was an unintentional crime. It was an accident. It was a mistake.”
Engh held up a box displaying what he said were among “thousands” of letters and cards of support for Potter.
“People took the time to write her,” Engh said. “This is unheard of for a defendant. I dare say no one in this room has ever seen anything like this.”
He urged the judge to sentence Potter to probation, saying sentencing guidelines are often not followed because they are too high for many defendants, including first-time offenders. He said Potter would be willing to meet with Wright’s family and to speak to police officers about Taser mixups.
If Potter is not sentenced to probation, then she should get a lower-than-usual sentence because Wright was the aggressor, Engh said. The testimony of other officers on the scene showed it was a dangerous situation because Wright was attempting to drive away, he said.
“This was an aggressive act. I don’t know how it couldn’t be an aggressive act,” said Engh, who also said Potter had the right to defend other officers and that she never should have been charged with first-degree manslaughter.
Evidence at Potter’s trial showed officers learned he had an outstanding warrant for a weapons possession charge and they tried to arrest him when he pulled away. Video showed Potter shouted several times that she was going to use her Taser on Wright, but she had her gun in her hand and fired one shot into his chest.
Potter has been at the state’s women’s prison in Shakopee since the guilty verdict. Her attorney said Friday that her mental and physical health has declined because she is isolated for her safety.
“If you send her to prison, you will harm her,” Engh said. “We are not in the business of harming defendants.”
Potter was also expected to make a statement.
Wright’s father and siblings earlier addressed the court to speak of their loss.
The mother of Wright’s son, Chyna Whitaker, said Friday that Wright would never have a chance to play ball with his son, or see him go to school.
“My son shouldn’t have to wear a ‘rest in peace’ shirt of his dad,” Whitaker said.
For someone with no criminal history, such as Potter, the state sentencing guidelines for first-degree manslaughter call for a penalty ranging from slightly more than six years to about 8 1/2 years in prison, with the presumptive sentence being just over seven years.
In Minnesota, it’s presumed that inmates who show good behavior will serve two-thirds of their sentence in prison and the rest on supervised release, commonly known as parole. That means if Potter gets the roughly seven-year presumptive sentence, she would serve about four years and nine months in custody, with the rest on parole.
The story been corrected to show Potter faces sentencing for first-degree manslaughter, not first-degree murder.
Webber contributed from Fenton, Michigan.
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