Prosecutors say Phillip Battle and his wife were using cocaine and drinking on the night before her death when they called police to report hearing noises and voices in their Goodyear Heights home.
Officers found no one else in the house.
Battle called police again the next morning to say he had accidentally shot his wife. Officers found Anita Heard lying on the floor with a gunshot wound to the head and bullet holes throughout the house with paper towels stuck in the bullet holes.
“I don’t know what a jury would have found in terms of his intent,” Assistant Prosecutor Joe Dangelo said Wednesday during Battle’s sentencing for his wife’s death in October. “Him having that firearm and using drugs and taking out that firearm cost her her life.”
Battle, 52, pleaded guilty under an agreement with prosecutors in February to involuntary manslaughter and several other charges related to the Oct. 12 shooting, and a brief car chase Battle led police on when they attempted to arrest him. He was originally charged with murder.
Summit County Common Pleas Judge Paul Gallagher sentenced Battle on Wednesday to 14 years in prison. He faced a maximum of 21 years.
The shooting happened on the morning of Oct. 12 at the couple’s Johnland Avenue home. Heard, 58, was transported to Summa Akron City Hospital, where she died Nov. 14.
Heard’s daughter, who lives out of town and was unable to be present for the sentencing, sent a letter to Gallagher that urged him to impose the maximum possible sentence.
Dangelo suggested 17 years would be appropriate.
Don Hicks, Battle’s attorney, however, argued for a lesser sentence. He said Battle has been remorseful about his wife’s death from the beginning. He said Battle and Heard met in a treatment program for people with traumatic brain injuries about 13 years ago.
“I don’t believe he intentionally directed the firearm against Anita,” Hicks said.
Hicks, a longtime defense attorney, said he “couldn’t have asked for a more respectful and polite client.”
Battle, who got teary and often closed his eyes during the sentencing, said he regrets what happened and misses his wife.
“My best time of day is when I go to sleep, because I am back with her,” he said.
Battle said he and his wife were doing volunteer work — helping youths — and came into contact with people they shouldn’t have as recovering addicts. After not having used drugs for a long time, he said, they fell off the wagon.
“That’s what happened,” he said. “This was not a purposeful thing.”
Russ Heiser, pastor of Crossroads Bible Fellowship in Akron where Battle and Heard attended, said Battle and his wife loved each other unconditionally.
“I can’t imagine this as anything other than a horrible accident,” he said.
Sharon Minutti, Battle’s sister, echoed this sentiment. She showed Gallagher a happy photo of Heard surrounded by family members.
“Women don’t smile like that who are in abusive situations,” she said.
Gallagher sentenced Battle to 10 years for involuntary manslaughter, three years for a gun specification and one year each for failure to comply with the signal of a police officer, domestic violence and tampering with evidence. The involuntary manslaughter, gun specification and failure to comply sentences will be consecutive, but the others will be concurrent, for a total of 14 years in prison.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, email@example.com and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj .