(Adds details on case, quotes)
By Rich McKay
ATLANTA Dec 21 A former Georgia policeman was
sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday after being found
guilty of murder earlier this month in the death of a suspect
shocked repeatedly with a Taser while handcuffed.
Marcus Eberhart, who was a sergeant in the Atlanta suburb of
East Point, did not speak after receiving his sentence. His
co-defendant, former officer Howard Weems, was given a five-year
sentence for lesser offenses, including involuntary manslaughter
and reckless conduct.
Eberhart and Weems shocked Gregory Towns, 24, with Tasers
more than a dozen times in April when he refused to walk to a
patrol car as he was being taken into custody after a reported
domestic dispute, prosecutors said.
Eberhart, dressed in a blue prison jumpsuit and wearing
shackles, stood as Fulton County Superior Court Judge Henry
Newkirk said: "There is only one sentence allowable under the
law. I sentence you to life."
Police departments around the United States have faced
numerous wrongful death civil lawsuits attributed to Tasers or
use of the stun guns as part of an overall use of force by
officers leading to a death. However, there have been few if any
criminal murder convictions of an officer stemming directly from
misuse of a Taser.
"There has never been a case with a Taser, in stun gun mode,
that has caused a death," said Weems' defense attorney, William
McKenney. "This is unprecedented and we will appeal."
Weems told the court he was sorry about the incident.
"I know nothing I could say that would ever bring
forgiveness to me," he said.
A grand jury indicted the two officers in August 2015 amid a
heightened national debate over the use of lethal force by
police, especially in confrontations with racial minorities.
Towns and the two policemen charged in his death were black.
After collapsing several times and repeated stun gun jolts,
Towns lapsed into unconsciousness and was pronounced dead a
short time later, prosecutors said.
An autopsy found the direct cause of death was "electric
stimulation" but also said Towns suffered from hypertensive
cardiovascular disease at the time. Expert witnesses for the
defense contended Towns was in ill health from an enlarged heart
and high blood pressure, court records showed.
Aisel Smith, the mother of Towns' son Dylan, 3, told
reporters outside court: "I'm going to try to let this all go,
for the sake of my son."
(Writing by by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by David Gregorio and