A Johnson City man will spend the next 24 years in prison for convictions related to his son’s accidental shooting four years ago, a judge ruled Tuesday.
But Christopher Mitchell won’t get out of prison after he serves that sentence because a 15-year federal prison term is waiting on him as well.
Mitchell, 30, was convicted in November of criminally negligent homicide and felony reckless endangerment in his 2-year-old son Jacob’s shooting death. Jacob apparently was able to get his hands on his father’s handgun in the hotel room where the family was living Jan. 11, 2009.
Jacob died from a single gunshot wound to the head.
Mitchell pleaded guilty at the start of his trial to other charges related to that incident as well. Those were identity theft and tampering with evidence. That stemmed from him giving a false name to police and hiding the gun.
Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood sentenced Mitchell to six years each on the homicide and endangerment convictions, 10 years on tampering with evidence and 12 years for identity theft. The homicide, endangerment and identity theft sentences are consecutive with each other and concurrent with the tampering conviction.
Mitchell was also convicted in federal court for possession of a handgun by a convicted felon after his son’s death. That charge also stemmed from the same incident because Mitchell had felony convictions in his criminal history.
Mitchell’s ex-wife and her mother were the only two who testified at Tuesday’s hearing, and each said Jacob’s death changed their lives forever.
“It’s just hard everyday,” said Heather Bible, Jacob’s mother, in an emotional voice.
“There are days I wake up and want to hug him and talk to him ... he never got to meet his brother,” she said.
Bible and Mitchell’s second son, Mason, was born 30 days after Jacob died. She said the situation has been hard on everyone, including Mitchell’s family.
It’s also made it hard to trust her younger son with anyone.
“I feel like I let him down. I live with this constantly.”
Bible’s mother, Sandy White, said there isn’t a day that passes that she doesn’t think of her grandson. In fact, she keeps several mementos — a shirt, a toy, a Christmas present from the year before he died — of him in her purse.
“I just hate this. There was a point in my life that I loved Chris Mitchell. We’ll never get out of this. We’ll die with this,” she said.
Bible and White also said they want to know what really happened in the hotel room that night.
“We’ll never know what really happened,” White said.
Mitchell offered no testimony or explanation to the women’s question.
Police investigators and prosecutors never really believed Mitchell’s account of what happened. He said the gun was in a cabinet and his son climbed into a chair and retrieved the gun.
Mitchell was asleep and said he woke up to a loud bang and saw his son on the floor bleeding.
Evidence at the scene led investigators to believe Jacob was shot near the bed, not in the kitchenette as Mitchell claimed.
After the shooting, Mitchell lied to police about his identity. At trial, he said it was because he knew there was a warrant for his arrest for violation of probation and he simply wanted the police to let him to be with his son at the hospital.
The 24-year sentence Mitchell received Tuesday is also consecutive to the 15-year federal sentence and remainder of the 12-year state sentence he’s serving. That sentence was ordered to be served after Mitchell’s arrest in his son’s death. He is eligible for parole in April.
Mitchell will be eligible for parole on the 24-year sentence after he serves 60 percent and on the federal sentence after he serves 85 percent.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article offered contradictory dates regarding the child's death. It has been corrected.