Posted: Apr 23, 2013 5:31 PM by Tara Grimes (Great Falls)
Updated: Apr 23, 2013 5:32 PM
GREAT FALLS - Mario Drake was sentenced in District Court on Monday to five years in the Montana State Prison in connection with the July 2011 death of 35-year old Cody Palmer. He also received 10 years suspended.
During the sentencing, tears filled the eyes of Palmer's family members.
Judge Greg Pinski accepted the binding plea deal which calls for a five-year sentence.
Police say it began as an argument at Palmer's home in Great Falls when Drake punched Palmer in the back of the neck, knocking him off a porch and head-first onto the pavement.
Palmer died from his injuries.
During his sentencing, Drake read a length apology to the family saying he felt "crushed" and didn't expect them to forgive him. He also said he wished he could take that night back.
Several family members, including Palmer's mother, brother, and sister-in-law took the stand asking the judge for a harsher punishment. Palmer's sister-in-law said Drake had not only taken Palmer's life, but under the stress and depression she's faced because of it, he's taken hers too. Palmer's mother pointed out Drake could be out of prison before the age of Palmer when he was killed.
Family members said Palmer was a father of three children, a war veteran, and had been an aquatic instructor at the Morony Natatorium. They said he had touched so many lives.
After their testimony, Drake once again stood up crying and told them he "lost his dignity, his self respect" and hoped to one day make something out of himself.
While Pinski told the family there is no justice he could do to compensate for their loss, he also said he had to sentence Drake under the fairness of the law and not under emotions.
Drake will get credit for time served -- 657 days -- leaving him with just a little more than three years in prison.