A Bay County man is just days into his five year prison sentence after he admitted to holding six children at gunpoint. But is the penalty too harsh?
Last week, Jerry Fulcher entered a plea of "no contest" to three felonies and one misdemeanor charge stemming from the June 13, 2012 incident outside his home in Southport. Fulcher, 68, admitted he was armed with a loaded .45 caliber pistol when he detained the children after they rode an all terrain vehicle onto his property. The children ranged in age from four to sixteen.
Fulcher was originally charged with a dozen crimes but agreed to the reduced charges and waived his right to a jury trial. His plea to four counts (possession of a firearm while committing false imprisonment, battery, aggravated assault with a firearm, and possession of a firearm while committing false imprisonment on a victim under 13) carried a total maximum penalty of 36 years.
Waylon Graham, the defense attorney who worked out the plea deal, said his client had a right to confront trespassers but agreed Fulcher "overreacted" when the ATV showed up on his property. Graham said his client was grieving over the recent death of his wife and frustrated by trespassers tearing up his driveway.
Graham thinks the five year sentence is too harsh. "This is a miscarriage of justice," he said. "The right thing was not sending this elderly man to prison."
According to the Bay County Sheriff's Office incident report, Fulcher pointed the gun at the children, cocked the pistol as he held his finger on the trigger, and forced them to form a group on the ground and crawl close together. Fulcher put the gun to the oldest child's head and made him look down the barrel, then took him into his home and made him use the phone to call his mother.
Glenn Hess, 14th Judicial Circuit State Attorney, said Fulcher terrorized the children.
"If he thought that there were trespassers or people that were there for no good purpose and he armed himself and came outside, that's one thing," Hess said. "But when he saw it was kids, pointing a big pistol… and telling them he was going to shoot them... that's way beyond anything that we can accept."
Graham said Hess should have reined in Megan Teeple, the Assistant State Attorney who prosecuted the case. "The State Attorney is paid for his experience and his level headedness... and this is where an old wise hand steps in and says 'we're going to fashion out a more appropriate form of punishment,'" Graham said. "That's what was missing in this case."
Hess said there's no way to "white wash" Fulcher's actions and stands by Teeple's handling of the case. "She did the job she was hired to do," he said. "These kids were so afraid… they're holding hands praying… [and] that's way beyond what we can accept."
Graham said the state should have given more weight to the fact that Fulcher had a record of community service and no prior criminal history. "You could have charged him with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, not a firearm, and then you could have put him on probation or possibly house arrest, [and allow] no contact with any of these victims," Graham said. "That would have been the way to handle it."
The State Attorney said reducing the number of charges from twelve to five and agreeing to the five year prison term were reasonable concessions.
"Mr. Fulcher's interests were considered and he got a fair and just sentence for what he did," Hess said. "There was no way that we were going to allow this to go unpunished."
Derrell Day, a local radio talk show host, has started a campaign to get Fulcher's sentence reviewed. After Graham appeared on his show Monday, Day said he will ask listeners to send letters to the State Attorney and Governor Rick Scott.
"We hope that maybe the governor at some point may be willing to intercede and commute his sentence,' Graham said.
Thank you for participating in our poll. Here are the results so far: