Police officer says plea bargain would mean an ‘open season’

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

Clovis police officers on Thursday asked District Judge Stephen Quinn to not accept a plea bargain prosecutors have offered a man accused of shooting a city detective.

Sgt. Dan Aguilar said giving Timothy Michael Burke, 52, a soft sentence would mean “open season on cops.”

Burke is accused of shooting Detective Keith Bessette, who has since recovered from his wounds, during an encounter in December of 2002.

Officers returned fire and hit Burke. His injuries have left him paralyzed from the chest down, officials have said.

Bessette has since left the Clovis police department and is now working in Iraq, court testimony showed.

In the plea agreement worked out between District Attorney Brett Carter and Public Defender Jim Wilson, Burke would serve 28 1/2 years in confinement. Carter has said Burke may not go to prison, but remain in a medical center where he is now, because of the severity of his injuries.

Burke was not in the courtroom during Thursday’s proceedings, but he participated via speaker phone.

Quinn advised Burke that by entering into a plea bargain he was waiving his right to a jury trial, where he would be presumed innocent by the court. Burke said he was aware of all the rights he was waiving.

Carter and Wilson agreed that finding money to cover costs incurred for Burke’s care during a trial would be difficult.
In the deal, Burke would plead guilty to three counts of assault with intent to commit a violent felony upon a peace officer and to one count of possession of a controlled substance. The bargain would throw out charges of aggravated battery upon a peace officer resulting in great bodily harm and resisting, evading or obstructing a peace officer.

Clovis police presented a letter to the court from Bessette. In the letter, Bessette said that he was not pleased with the prospect of Burke reducing his sentence through a plea bargain and urged the court to reject the deal.

Burke told the court that police shot him several times after he was on the ground and unable to threaten them further.
Carter said an independent investigation into the shooting found no evidence of misconduct by Clovis police.

The judge halted the hearing when he could not obtain a medical report detailing Burke’s current health condition by the end of the day Thursday.

He scheduled another hearing for 1 p.m. Monday.