A state district judge on Wednesday sentenced Roundup resident Bobby Cooksey to 50 years in prison for murdering his neighbor, who was trimming his weeds when fatally shot in 2009.
Musselshell County District Judge Randal Spaulding told Cooksey, 68, that when he took the life of Tracy Lee Beardslee, "you effectively took your own."
Spaulding said Cooksey would be eligible to seek parole after serving about a quarter of his sentence. He ordered Cooksey returned to the Yellowstone County jail, where he has been held since the shooting.
The sentence was less than the life term sought by Musselshell County Attorney Kent Sipe and by Beardslee's family.
"I truly believe it will be a life sentence," Sipe said after the hearing.
Sipe asked for life with Cooksey serving at least 25 years before he could seek parole. Beardslee's family asked for life without parole.
Ed Sheehy, Cooksey's public defender, recommended a commitment to the Department of Corrections for a minimum of five years, with Cooksey being eligible for parole.
Sheehy unsuccessfully sought an exception to the statutory minimum sentence of 10 years, saying that Cooksey acted under duress.
A jury convicted Cooksey of deliberate homicide in September for the July 9, 2009, shooting of Beardslee, 48. The men were neighbors at the end of a private dirt road 12 miles southeast of Roundup and had argued over a disputed road easement when the shooting occurred.
Prosecutors called the shooting cold-blooded murder because Cooksey shot Beardslee with a high-powered rifle from a distance of about 30 feet as Beardslee was walking away and using a weed trimmer. Beardslee, who was unarmed, died at the scene.
Cooksey testified at trial and maintained at sentencing that he acted in self defense because Beardslee had threatened to kill him.
Cooksey showed no emotion during the 4-1/2-hour hearing.
"I'm sorry for Tracy's mother and dad," Cooksey told the judge.
But, Cooksey said, he acted because Beardslee had threatened to kill him. "I had to protect my wife and myself," he said.
Cooksey also blamed law enforcement for not responding to earlier complaints that he had lodged about problems he and his wife were having with Beardslee. "These people didn't do their jobs, and they should have," he said.
Beardslee's parents, Niles and Marilyn Beardslee, of Roundup, hugged each other upon hearing the sentence.
"I'm satisfied with that," said Niles Beardslee, who wore a T-shirt bearing a photograph of his son. "My feeling is he should never get out. He should die in there."
During emotional testimony on the stand, Niles Beardslee told the judge how close he and his son were, how they fished and hunted together and how his son helped others.
Speaking directly to Cooksey, Niles Beardslee asked, "Did you have any love in your heart at all? I would like to see you rot in hell."
Although unhappy that Cooksey could seek parole, Marilyn Beardslee said, "I feel basically he will be in there the rest of his life. We're 76. We'll probably never see him out."
Marilyn Beardslee also testified and told the judge that her son's murder has affected her in "every possible way" and said her grandchildren will never know him.
She said she and her husband moved to Roundup because Tracy had promised he would take care of them. "We thought our future was set," she said.
"You are a cold-blooded murderer and you need to be in jail," Marilyn Beardslee told Cooksey. "I feel you are a low-down, conning, controlling, manipulative, selfish person."
Although Beardslee's three grown children all testified that they forgave Cooksey, Beardslee's parents said they never could. Beardslee's children, their mother and ex-wife of Beardslee, and a sister testified by video from Michigan.
Sipe and Deputy County Attorney Lance Lundvall called a total of nine witnesses, most of whom were family members.
Charles Martin, a state probation and parole officer who prepared Cooksey's pre-sentence report, recommended a life sentence saying Cooksey showed no remorse. "It was a cold-blooded killing," he said.
The defense called one witness, Michael Butz, a psychologist who had evaluated Cooksey. Butz said he thought Cooksey, whom he diagnosed as having anxiety disorder and was anxious over his health problems, had acted under duress.
"I think he saw a big, angry man who threatened his life," Butz said.
Sheehy said earlier that he planned to appeal the conviction.
In December, Spaulding denied a defense request for a new trial, saying there had been no error in the jury selection process. The defense had alleged juror misconduct, claiming that potential jurors had discussed the case before jury selection.
After a hearing that lasted more than four hours, Roundup resident Bobby Cooksey was sentenced to 50 years in prison on Wednesday for murdering his neighbor in 2009.
Musselshell County District Judge Randal Spaulding said Cooksey will be eligible for parole after serving one fourth of the time and ordered Cooksey to pay restitution of $7,906.
Musselshell County Attorney Kent Sipe asked for life in prison, with no eligibility for parole for 25 years.
Ed Sheehy, Cooksey’s defense attorney, argued for a minimum of five years in prison.
The sentencing decision came after nine witnesses testified on behalf of Tracy Lee Beardslee, who was 48 when he was shot and killed by Cooksey.
One witness testified on Cooksey’s behalf.
During the hearing, Cooksey made a statement and maintained that he shot Beardslee in self defense.
“I’m real sorry for Tracy’s mother and dad,” Cooksey said. But he blamed Musselshell County officials for not responding to earlier disputes that he had with Beardslee.
A jury convicted Cooksey, 68, of deliberate homicide on Sept. 20, 2010, in the shooting death of Beardslee in a dispute over a road easement on July 7, 2009. Cooksey testified that he fired in self-defense after Beardslee threatened to kill him.