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Arizona man charged in death of Utah deputy pleads guilty

SHARE Arizona man charged in death of Utah deputy pleads guilty

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — An Arizona man charged in the 2010 death of a Utah sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty Friday to murder and other charges, avoiding a weekslong trial and prosecution in a second case.

Scott Curley appeared in Coconino County Superior Court and admitted fatally shooting Kane County, Utah, Deputy Brian Harris, and to charges of burglary, theft and aggravated assault. Prosecutors agreed to drop a pornography case against Curley in exchange for the guilty pleas in the murder case.

"What we get out of this in the murder case is convictions for everything we were going to seek convictions on in the jury trial, and the opportunity to make arguments for maximum sentences with the court," said Coconino County Attorney Dave Rozema.

Allen Gerhardt, who oversees the county public defender's office, declined to comment.

Rozema said prosecutors did not offer a plea agreement, but Curley's attorney brought forth a proposal about a week ago. Rozema said his office agreed to it after consulting with Harris' widow and law enforcement officers from Kane County, who were in court Friday for a pre-trial and evidentiary hearing in the case.

Calls to the homes of Harris' widow and his parents in Utah went unanswered Friday, and a message left with the Kane County sheriff's office wasn't immediately returned.

Curley is set to be sentenced following a hearing Oct. 18-19 in which Harris' family members and colleagues can testify. He faces up to life in prison on the premeditated, first-degree murder charge alone.

"We look forward to presenting powerful evidence at the sentencing hearing showing the ambush assassination of Deputy Harris as well as the danger Curley presents to others if he is ever released from custody," Rozema said.

Harris, 41, was tracking Curley, who was wanted for burglary, when the deputy was ambushed in August 2010, authorities said. Following the shooting, Curley fled into the wilderness along the Arizona-Utah border. He was captured four days later near Kanab, Utah.

A five-week trial had been scheduled to start Oct. 9, but Curley will avoid that and prosecution on 10 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor. Authorities said they recovered a computer during a search of Curley's home that had child pornography on it.

Although Curley pleaded guilty to Harris' murder Friday, he already had acknowledged his guilt to authorities and mental health experts. He has described the shooting consistently, saying he hid under a tree and intentionally fired an assault rifle at someone who didn't listen to his demands to freeze.

Curley responded in one interview with a mental health expert that he was more likely to take a plea deal, although one hadn't been offered to him at the time, because a lesser penalty "makes sense."

The agreement Curley signed Friday included all but one of the original charges — aggravated assault — because prosecutors had decided earlier not to proceed to trial with it. The penalties were not reduced.

Curley's competency had come into question during the case, with his attorney saying that his client was intent on proving psychotic beliefs. The prosecution and defense agreed that Curley was mentally ill but disagreed on whether he could aid in his defense, which could have included insanity. A judge ruled earlier this year that he was competent to stand trial.