Phillip Haire was due in court for his trial Tuesday on 10 charges, including three life felonies, for shooting at a cop, shooting at his father, and carjacking a man on U.S. 1. His own attorney had previously urged him to take a plea. He’s steadily refused even as procedural pre-trial rulings made it even more difficult for him to build a defense.
Haire has claimed he was being framed, that someone else had done the shooting, and his attorneys have tried to argue that mentally he was not in command of his faculties at the time of the shooting, though they never presented an insanity defense.
In a last-minute reversal, Haire, 21, this afternoon took a plea as he stood before Circuit Judge Terence Perkins, with Sheriff Rick Staly one of three people in the audience behind him. His parents were the other two.
Haire was sentenced to 25 years in prison followed by 10 years’ probation. In actuality, he could be out in 18.5 years.
Assistant State Attorney Jason Lewis had offered a 25-to-30-year deal when last in court with Haire on Oct. 25, when Haire turned it down. That offer carried a 20-year minimum mandatory term, as did today’s deal.
The hearing was so last-minute that not even court administrators were aware of it, and no felony clerk was in court to record the proceedings. It was an extraordinary situation, but Perkins said he was willing to proceed as long as the hearing was on audio and video, which it was.
Compared to the three life terms Haire was facing, the sentence was relatively generous, especially when time for good behavior and credit for time served are calculated: Haire has been in jail a year and a half since his arrest on May 3, 2017. That’s credited to his sentence. He will also be eligible for release after serving 85 percent of his sentence. That means a little over 20 years, going back to May 3, 2017. In other words, Haire may be eligible for release in some 20 years, before he turns 40. (an earlier version of this story incorrectly placed the eligibility for early release at 80 percent rather than 85.)
“Obviously it was in his best interest to plea because I’m sure he would have been convicted, and he was facing life in prison,” Staly said in an interview shortly after the hearing. “While I would have preferred life in prison, I think this was a fair sentence and I’m just glad we didn’t have to bury a deputy sheriff and no one else was injured, whether that be his parents or the person he carjacked.”
That May 1, 2017, Haire had been texting his parents that he was going to harm his father. His family members were concerned enough that sheriff’s deputies had been to the house. Then-Sgt. Phil Reynolds was at the Haire’s London Drive house when Phillip drove by and shot at Reynolds and his father, who were outside the house. He did not hit them. Haire then fled, wrecked his car on U.S. 1, car-jacked a man, and fled. He turned himself in two days later.
The sheriff had spoken to Reynolds about a potential plea. “He’s the one that has to testify and he’s the victim,” the sheriff said of Reynolds, “so if he’s satisfied with it, then I support that decision, and he told me that he would not agree to anything less than the 25 years, but he was satisfied with the 25.” Reynolds has since been promoted to commander. He’s now in charge of the Youth Services section, which includes the contingent of more than a dozen school resource deputies in public and charter schools.
“I’d like to thank the men and women of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office during and after this incident,” Reynolds was quoted as saying in a sheriff’s release after the sentencing. “After being involved in an incident like this, it proves that violence is not the answer with any family issues. I do wish his family the best moving forward.”
Not having to testify would be a plus for Reynolds, the sheriff said. “Having been shot on duty and having gone to trial myself and having testified in a four-day trial in my shooting,” Staly said of his on-duty shooting incident in 1978, “I’m sure he’s relieved that he does not have to re-live this incident in court, because you literally see your life flash in front of you. when I got shot I was down on the ground, I specifically remember, I knew i’d been hit in the arm, I knew I’d been hit in the chest, I was 21 years old, I remember thinking I always wondered how I was going to die, and now I know. Fortunately, I did not.”
Perkins did not say anything about the sentence. He heard Lewis read a summation of the incident and addressed Haire directly. Haire, who’s typically spoken in monosyllables and under his breath and could be mercurial in his court appearances–he once threatened a county judge and last month got up in his shackles and sought to leave the courtroom in the middle of a hearing–was polite and straightforward as he tendered his plea next to Jeremy Buckmaster, his attorney.
Haire was found guilty on charges of carjacking with a firearm, burglary with a firearm and attempted second degree murder of a law
enforcement officer. Once released on probation , he will have lost his driver’s license for life, and for the 10 years of probation will have to submit to rigorous supervisory terms, including unannounced and warrantless searches, mental health and drug-screening requirements.
Staly and his parents shook hands after the hearing. It was the first time they’d met. “I’m sorry we had to meet this way,” the sheriff told them.
Haire had been one of the inmates who helped keep another inmate from killing himself earlier this year, an incident that a psychologist told the court helped him turn around his demeanor for the better in jail. Staly had included Haire among those he commended for their intervention.
“As far as what he did in our jail, even the most violent and prolific offenders once in a while can do something right and I recognize them for doing something right,” Staly said. “But he still has a penalty to pay for trying to kill one of my deputies and one of his parents, and doing a car jacking.” It does appear that Haire has become more compliant at the jail, however. “In the very beginning he was a very problematic inmate and non-cooperative,” Staly said. “I’ve not had any recent reports on him so to my knowledge he has behaved, at least in the last number of months.”
He will be processed put of the jail and turned over to the custody of the Florida prison system, first going to a prison commonly referred to as a “reception center,” where he will be classified, then transferred again to a permanent prison. The Florida prison system makes no effort to keep prisoners close to their families, routinely transferring them to prisons hundreds of miles away.