By BRETT COPLEN and SHANE FARLEY
A Cowley County jury deliberated about three hours Wednesday afternoon before finding 33-year-old Zachary Gardner guilty of unintentional second-degree murder in the death of his wife, Melissa Gardner.
Sentencing is set for 1:30 p.m. March 12 at the county courthouse in Winfield.
Zachary Gardner shot and killed his wife at their home at 504 E. Fourth in Winfield. Her body was discovered at the residence by her sister on Jan. 15, 2017.
She called 911, police arrived and Zachary Gardner was placed under arrest.
The jury found Gardner guilty of a lesser charge than the 2nd degree murder count brought by county attorney Larry Schwartz. To have convicted Gardner of the more serious charge, jurors would have had to agree the crime was intentional.
Instead jurors found Gardner acted not intentionally, but recklessly with extreme indifference to the value of human life.
The unintentional murder conviction means Gardner will spend less time in prison.
Multiple court sources told NewsCow Zachary Gardner would likely face a sentence of around 130 months. He will get credit for time served and also could receive a reduction for good behavior while incarcerated.
He is expected to serve 10 years or less in prison. Gardner has been in custody since the day of the crime. A final determination on sentencing is made by Dist. Court Judge Nick St. Peter following a full review of Gardner’s criminal history.
On Wednesday morning, Gardner took the stand in his own defense. He testified in front of jurors for more than an hour.
He spoke extensively about his military service, including time in Iraq. Three times, Garden was in the area when IEDs exploded. One of those was a direct hit that left him badly injured and led to the amputation of his foot.
He was discharged due to PTSD and traumatic brain injury. Gardner spoke of an incident where he had choked one of his young children as the two slept in a bed.
Zachary and Melissa slept with a body pillow between at times, so she would not be choked.
Gardner also spoke about the day Melissa was shot. He recounted hearing a scream and waking up to fire a shot with a pistol he kept under his bed pillow.
Under cross examination by Schwartz, Gardner could not say whether the shot or scream came first.
Gardner said he “was in shock and grief. And terrified” when he found out he had shot his wife.
He was also questioned about a statement he is said to have made to police that a person “who uses meth shouldn’t have a gun.” Gardner’s blood was drawn the day of the crime and he was found to be on meth.
On the stand, he said he did not remember making that statement.
Gardner did acknowledge he lied about whether he used meth because he didn’t want to be in trouble.
Asked why he never called for medical aid for his wife, Gardner said he “wasn’t thinking clearly.”