With all of that established, the judge turned to the question of what a “reasonable sentence” would be.
McKinley sentenced Minor to two years of probation less than three hours earlier, and he noted the disparity between the punishments the government wanted for Minor, who had admitted to assaulting Stinnett, and Eaton, whom the jury acquitted of doing so.
Co-prosecutor Roy Conn III did not deny the difference, saying Eaton’s crime was more severe, and Minor and the others were under his control, so he could have prevented it all. Conn also noted Minor’s cooperation. He said their situations were “like apples and oranges to compare.”
True asked the court to consider a noncustodial sentence for Eaton, saying despite how aggressively the case had been investigated and prosecuted, there was “no indication, not a smidge” of evidence there was a history of his abusing employees or suspects in any way. He said the judge had received several letters of support from community members and painted him as a caring, compassionate man, “the kind of public servant we should want more of, not less of,” and someone who used the resources of his department to advance the lives of community members.
True said the only way the government would even talk to Eaton about charging him with anything differently was if Eaton would testify against the others, and he refused.
“If he has to go to the penitentiary to do it, frankly I think it’s a star in his crown … that he didn’t want to be part of that kind of justice,” True said.
He also asked the judge to take Eaton’s family into consideration, particularly his two children, a disabled stepdaughter and his wife’s brother’s two children whom Eaton and his wife took into their home to remove them from an abusive environment.
“They have rescued those children,” True said.
He said Eaton was exposed to a methamphetamine lab in 2010 that damaged his respiratory system and he has been diagnosed with diabetes since this all began.
True noted Minor’s sentence and the disparity the judge had mentioned there and with others involved in the investigation. He said he’d never been involved with a case where so many people had lied, including to a grand jury.
“All but one of those is uncharged. They will serve no penalty for their crime,” True said, adding it was because ultimately, those people said what the government wanted.
He pointed out Eaton’s resignation Wednesday, removing him from the environment where any such acts could occur, and that, because of his being a former sheriff, for his safety he would have to be farther away, creating more distance for his family to have to travel for visits.
True told the story of a sentencing situation where the judge had impressed him because “he looked at my client as a person,” and he asked McKinley to do the same.
Conn said after True approached the government to see whether any agreement could be reached, Eaton had an opportunity for a misdemeanor charge and was told he would have to testify against the others, but he was never asked to lie about anything.
McKinley reminded the prosecutors they said at Minor’s sentencing he was unlikely to commit further crimes and asked whether they felt the same way about Eaton.
“I’m not sure about that,” Conn said, but he said the punishment should be strong enough to send a message to all law enforcement officers.