Zachary Harrison, the man convicted of murdering an Alderpoint resident in Southern Humboldt County and fleeing authorities for nine months afterward, was sentenced Monday to life imprisonment.
Harrison, 29, will serve 50 years before receiving the opportunity for parole. His sentence was doubled from the standard 25-to-life because he used a firearm to carry out the killing of 58-year-old Robert Holtslclaw on Sept. 23, 2017.
Judge Kaleb Cockrum on Monday denied a motion by the defense to remove the additional 25 years. Cockrum alluded to Harrison’s familial history, acknowledging that the Alderpoint resident was abused as a child by both his biological mother and brother, but said it would be “inappropriate” to discount Harrison’s use of a firearm in the killing.
“But for the use of a rifle, it would have been very difficult to carry out a murder in this case,” Cockrum said, noting that Harrison fired from distance when he shot and killed Holtsclaw.
If Harrison is ever granted parole, he will serve it over a 10-year probationary period. He has the right to appeal his sentence over the next 60 days.
Harrison wore an orange jumpsuit to court on Monday, standing in silence with his head raised high. He wore handcuffs and a heavy cast over one of his hands. Cockrum said in court that Harrison had sustained the injury during a recent fight at the Humboldt County jail.
In arguing for a 50-year minimum sentence, Deputy District Attorney Adrian Kamada said Harrison has displayed no remorse and has never provided a reason for killing Holtsclaw.
It remains unclear whether Harrison was even looking to kill Holtsclaw specifically, since eyewitness Tory Hennings, a friend of Harrison’s, testified in court to seeing Harrison aim the rifle at him moments before firing.
Over the next nine months, Harrison would evade authorities, swapping license plates and slipping away from a near-arrest. His eventual capture near the Bayshore Mall in Eureka was featured in the 2018 documentary series “Murder Mountain,” which is available on Netflix.
Patricia Holtsclaw, the victim’s sister, read aloud a statement in court on Monday. She said she had not been close to her brother for several years, but the two had begun to reconcile prior to his death.
She said Robert Holtsclaw had been an intelligent child, and recalled time she spent with her brother during holiday seasons and childhood trips to Death Valley.
“(Harrison) took away the chance to strengthen our relationship and make new memories,” she said.
In killing Holtsclaw from distance and fleeing law enforcement, Harrison had behaved like a “coward” and “hid like an animal,” Patricia Holtsclaw told the court. She asked for a maximum sentence.
“I don’t care about his soul,” she said. “I want his mortality in prison for the rest of his life.”
Robert Holtsclaw’s daughter spoke to her grief at losing her father so suddenly. She said she has suffered physical and emotional anxiety in the time since his death, stealing moments in the shower to cry so no one can hear her.
“My family has suffered so much at the hands of one man and now it’s time for him to reap the consequences of his actions,” Holtsclaw’s daughter said.
Harrison did receive character testimony from a woman who said Harrison stayed with her during his middle school years. She worked as a secretary at his school and her husband was Harrison’s teacher.
Cockrum silently read the woman’s statement. When he later alluded to Harrison’s childhood abuse, the woman nodded back at him.
Deputy Public Defender Luke Brownfield — representing Harrison after attorney Brie Bennett’s recent departure from her position — appealed to Cockrum on the basis of Harrison’s youth, but his attempt to see the sentence lightened proved unsuccessful.
During trial, Harrison’s defense had argued that eyewitness Tory Hennings could have framed Harrison for murder. Investigators had found no forensic evidence tying Harrison to the murder, but did recover 30-30 copper rifle bullets from Harrison’s trailer — the same ammunition fired to kill Holtsclaw.
The bullets, along with Hennings’ testimony and images of Harrison’s car leaving the site of Holtsclaw’s death, were enough to secure a conviction.
Jury foreperson Dean Troutte later told the Times-Standard that he and other jurors were confident in their decision.
“As long as he’s not back on the streets, even if he’s an old man… I’m safe with life imprisonment,” Troutte said last month.
Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.