Convicted shooter sentenced

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

A former Clovis police detective said being in court Monday when the man who shot him was sentenced to a long prison term gave him closure.

Keith Bessette was serving a drug warrant in Dec. 6, 2002, when he suffered a bullet wound to his arm in an exchange of fire with Timothy Michael Burke.

“I’m really pleased with Judge (Stephen) Quinn’s decision,” he said. “It’s been sitting out there for 24-plus months now. We did our job on our end and we sent him to the Department of Corrections. Whatever they do up there with him is their decision.”

In court testimony, Bessette said the shooting had a huge psychological effect on him, his family and the police department. He even indicated the shooting was more disturbing than his experiences in Iraq, where he now works training Iraqi police.

Burke, 53, was sentenced by Quinn to 32 1/2 years in the Department of Corrections on three counts of assault with the intention of committing a violent felony on a peace officer, aggravated battery on a peace officer with a deadly weapon, resisting, evading or obstructing an officer and possession of a controlled substance.

Burke, who is paralyzed from the chest down from a bullet wound after police returned fire, participated by conference call from a medical facility near Silver City.

Burke offered conciliatory words to the detective he shot, Bessette’s family and the city.

“I want to apologize to officer Bessette, (but) nothing I can do will make it right. I apologize to the whole city of Clovis,” Burke said.

Within the week Burke will be sent to the Department of Corrections where his medical condition will be reviewed and his ultimate destination will be determined. He could go to one of several correctional facilities that prosecutors said will meet his medical needs.

Defense attorney Jim Wilson argued Burke’s health would deteriorate rapidly if he didn’t receive constant medical attention, therefore, he should remain in the medical facility.

He also said his client had already paid enough for his crimes, pointing out Burke is in constant pain, prone to frequent urinary tract infections and has little use of his upper extremities.

“This is a court of law, not a court of retribution. We need to get past the emotion and look at justice,” Wilson said. “Mr. Burke’s going through hell. And as much as the people who just spoke have suffered, (nobody has) suffered as much as Mr. Burke.”

Earlier, District Attorney Matt Chandler read a medical report that stated Burke had regained some use of his left hand, gained weight, had good vital signs and a good respiratory system. He added Burke has mobility in a wheelchair around the medical facility.

A doctor who works with Department of Corrections inmates testified there are 10 or 12 inmates in the system that must use a wheelchair while incarcerated.

Former District Attorney Brett Carter sought a plea agreement for Burke in August, in which he would have pleaded guilty to four of the charges and served a 28 1/2-year sentence at the medical facility rather than in prison. But Clovis police argued in court that would mean “open season” on cops and wanted Burke to face a trial. Quinn denied the initial plea agreement.

The state called numerous witnesses from the police department during the sentencing phase of the hearing. They testified how paranoia racked the department in the wake of the shooting and pushed for the maximum sentence.

Chandler said Burke’s criminal history that includes convictions for armed robbery and burglary demonstrates he is a danger to society.

Bessette’s wife, Carol, also testified about how terrified she was after her husband was shot. At the time she was six months pregnant.

“I do feel bad about that (Burke being paralyzed), but he had the decision to stop and turn himself in,” she said after the hearing. “I’m just happy it’s over so he can’t hurt anyone else.”