A 24-year-old charged with manslaughter in the death of his roommate was sentenced to 10 years in prison with seven years suspended in court on Friday, April 9, along with credit for three days of time already served.
Cody Hartman had pleaded guilty last year to the Class B felony for the death of Benjamin Maxson, 40. According to court records, the two got into an argument and fought with each other last year in March.
Hartman told police Maxson had tried to punch him twice, but missed. Hartman, on the other hand, did not miss. According to charging documents, he hit Maxson in the head at least once, then hit him in the head again when Maxson tried to get up from the floor. Hartman then left the room and went to bed.
The next morning, he discovered Maxson’s body and called police, who arrested him on charges of manslaughter, as well as misdemeanor charges related to possession of drug paraphernalia.
State’s Attorney Nathan Madden had asked District Judge Benjamen Johnson for a 10-year sentence, as well as restitution.
“He had other options,” Madden said. “He could have closed the door, locked it.”
But, more than that, Madden said, Hartman has not been doing anything during the year since Maxson’s death to address the drug and alcohol addictions that contributed to the actions that night that led to his roommate and his friend’s death.
“We have documentation right here that he still has serious issues that more than a year after the fact have not been addressed,” Madden said. “There’s no indication that outside of incarceration, where treatment programs are available, where anger management programs are available that this will not happen again.”
The defense, meanwhile, had requested a deferred imposition of sentence for three years with three years of supervised probation, along with 24-7 alcohol monitoring, a chemical dependency evaluation, mental health evaluation and treatment, and restitution.
Philip Becher, the defense attorney of record for the case, said the fact his client had pleaded guilty, despite having legitimate defense options in the case, shows his client is willing to take responsibility for his actions and make changes to his life.
Hartman has contended Maxson started the conflict, Becher said, which means Hartman could have reasonably argued he was defending himself.
A pathology report submitted by the defense also shows that other factors may have played a role in Maxon’s death. These factors included an enlarged heart, as well as the fact Maxson had consumed alcohol and medication at the time.
“And so I think, when you look at it, you have these two distinct, both of them, from my perspective, pretty viable legal defenses to the issue,” Becher said. “I think that really speaks to the fact of Mr. Hartman sincerely wanting to take responsibility for this.”
Becher said Hartman is seeing what happened as a serious wake-up call, and that in the year since the incident he has complied with all court orders, with no mistakes or slip-ups.
Hartman tearfully apologized to Maxson’s family and friends for their loss, and said he will never forget his friend.
“It pains me to the core to think about the loss and how that has affected their lives,” he said. “This incident resulted in a horrific loss, and I’m here to step up to the plate and accept my consequences in this matter. That is why I simply pled guilty and appear before you today, to accept whatever the court’s decision may be, and to follow through, so that this never occurs again. I wouldn’t wish the pain and suffering this has caused on anyone.”
Johnson, in his sentencing statement, acknowledged that the fighting between the parties was mutual, and that, as such, it meets the legal qualifications of provocation. But, he added, it was not a strong enough provocation for what occurred.
He also agreed with Madden that there is a pattern with regard to not addressing addictions — despite previous incidents that should have already perhaps served as the wakeup call Hartman needed.
“It’s pretty clear to me that there was an issue that’s been present since 2015,” Johnson said.
This criminal history was not the largest factor, Johnson added, but it suggests that if Hartman would have addressed that sooner, the death of Maxson might have been prevented.
Those addictions, left unaddressed, could also reasonably put Hartman in situations in the future where another incident is likely, Johnson said. Although he doesn’t think Hartman has any particular criminal intent when it comes to hurting others.
“Ultimately, in and of itself, the actual offense to me is the most substantial factor in my consideration,” he said. “Manslaughter is a serious charge. Ultimately somebody lost their life in regards to this incident, so I do think that it does require a period of inrarceration.”