Blamed drug addiction on “constant pain” and old on-duty injury
Daughter also to be sentenced for her role in planned attack
BISBEE – The highly-publicized hitman case against Israel Burkholder came to a quiet end April 14, when the former Cochise County Sheriff’s deputy appeared in court for sentencing. With only his parents and two reporters in the gallery, Burkholder was sentenced by judge Wallace Hoggatt to 10 years in state prison, followed by four years of supervised probation.
Burkholder, age 46, pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy to commit aggravated assault and possession of a dangerous drug. He was arrested in November after Sierra Vista detectives recorded him meeting with a hitman to plan an attack against Michael Mays, who was suspected of abusing Burkholder’s 23 year old daughter Jasmine. The hitman was in fact an undercover law enforcement officer.
The plea deal accepted by Burkholder called for a prison sentence between 7.5 and 15 years on the conspiracy charge and up to four years of probation on the drug charge. The length of each was at the discretion of judge Hoggatt.
In a statement before the judge imposed sentence, Burkholder noted he has had time since his arrest for “a lot of reflection” and was sorry for his choices. He said his anger about Jasmine’s mistreatment “got me to a point of boiling rage” and he conceded “yes, I wanted Mr. Mays hurt for what he did to my daughter.” Court records show Mays, age 35, has a criminal history involving prostitution and was alleged to be Jasmine Burkholder’s pimp.
Burkholder said he could not attack Mays himself due to long-standing medical issues. He admitted to being addicted to pain medications for “quite some time” due to “constant pain” from various injuries, including on on-duty incident with the sheriff’s office which required surgery.
Court records show Burkholder resigned from the sheriff’s office in March 2015 after 11 years of service. An internal investigation report issued the day of his resignation revealed he obtained “474 prescription only narcotic pain pills” in a 60 day period. The report also noted Burkholder admitted to “ingesting narcotic pain medication while on-duty.”
Burkholder turned to illegal drugs like heroin, he explained, when he could not obtain prescription medication. “But there is no excuse,” Burkholder conceded, for allowing the addiction “to take over my life” or for “the decisions I made” involving his daughter and Mays.
Although Burkholder did not ask Hoggatt for leniency, defense attorney Eric Manch argued for the 7.5 year sentence, reminding the judge that no one was injured by Burkholder’s actions. Manch also renewed the defense’s contention that the “hitman” aspect of the case was “concocted by law enforcement.”
He contended authorities should have immediately contacted Burkholder after learning he was despondent and possibly suicidal. Instead, Manch noted, a criminal case was “orchestrated by Sierra Vista Police Dept.”
Prosecutor Roger Contreras, however, argued that “the facts of this case clearly call for” the maximum prison sentence and longest term of probation. He noted that Burkholder’s experience as a deputy made him keenly aware “how wrong it was” to plan to have Mays attacked. Contreras also noted that police recordings “make it clear” Burkholder had no problem with the possibility Mays could be killed in the attack.
Judge Hoggatt noted that in weighing the appropriate sentence there were some
mitigating factors in Burkholder’s favor. According to Hoggatt, those factors included Burkholder’s lack of a criminal record, his remorse, and the fact he “had done real public service” during his law enforcement career and U.S. Marines service.
However, in the end the judge said he placed “more weight on the aggravating factors” which included giving money and jewelry to a go-between to move forward with planning the attack. Another aggravating factor Hoggatt cited was that Burkholder involved his daughter in the conspiracy despite knowing she had a drug addiction problem and “legal troubles of her own.”
Judge Hoggatt ordered Burkholder credited for more than five months spent in jail pending resolution of the case. Several other charges, including conspiracy to commit first degree murder, were dismissed by the judge as part of the deal. Mays, the intended victim, did not respond to request from the county attorney’s office for a pre-sentence statement.
Jasmine Burkholder has pleaded guilty to her role in the conspiracy for giving $100 to her father to help facilitate the attack. She is scheduled to be sentenced by Hoggatt next month at which time she will also be resentenced in several old cases for which she violated terms of her probation.
Contact reporter Terri Jo Neff at 520-508-3660 or firstname.lastname@example.org