A former Dodge City police officer convicted of murder in September offered no reaction as his prison sentence was delivered Friday afternoon.
Ford County District Judge Leigh Hood sentenced Chris Tahah to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 20 years for the felony first-degree murder of Erin L. Jones. Hood also sentenced Tahah to a consecutive 8 1/2-year sentence for criminal discharge of a firearm in an occupied dwelling for the May 4, 2007 murder.
As Judge Hood dictated Tahah’s sentence, an audible gasp came from the far side of the courtroom where Jones’ family and friends were seated. Tahah’s mother and father sat on the opposite side. His mother wept silently.
But for the two families, the sentence was nothing new.
Tahah received the same prison term for Jones' murder in May 2008, but the Kansas Supreme Court reversed the conviction in October 2011 and ordered a new trial. The ruling added instructions that allowed the new jury to consider lesser included offenses of second-degree reckless murder or involuntary manslaughter, based on Tahah's testimony that his rifle accidentally went off while he was pointing it at Jones from her back yard.
Jones’ father and sister spoke to the courtroom, each tearfully describing their anguish.
“He ripped her from our lives,” Jones’s sister Theresa said in a video recording. “And he can’t even have the decency to admit guilt.”
Jones’s father made a last-minute decision to address the court and spoke of how the death of his daughter left a void in his life as well as the lives of Jones’ two children.
“I’m finding it hard to say what I’m thinking,” he said. “I wanted so much for my family to grow up as a whole family.”
Tahah chose not to make a statement; his lawyer, Steve Ariagno of Wichita addressed the court on his behalf. Ariagno asked Judge Hood to consider the difference between a gang member on the street with a life of crime and an individual who commits an aberrant act.
He asked the judge to consider a concurrent sentence for Tahah’s crimes.
Ford County Attorney Terry Malone agreed with Ariagno’s assertion that Tahah’s life had not been that of a criminal but said his role in the community made his crimes even more heinous. Malone identified Tahah as a member of one of the finest fraternities, that of sworn officers of law enforcement.
In his closing statement to Tahah, Judge Hood agreed.
“When you join that the fraternity of people, your duty is to protect citizens from harm,” he said. “Mr. Tahah violated the public’s trust to the greatest extent possible.”
For an in-depth look at the trial and crime, visit www.dodgeglobe.com.