TWIN FALLS, Idaho — A Filer man convicted of shooting at a crop duster last August will not serve jail time, unless he violates the terms of his probation.
Idaho farm groups had sent letters to Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker, asking him to dole out the “proper penalties” to Christopher V. Lewis, who admitted to police that he fired four shotgun rounds into the air.
Stoker sentenced Lewis to 5-10 years in prison but suspended that sentence and gave him three years of supervised probation.
He also gave Lewis 180 days in the county jail but suspended that sentence as well provided he does four things.
Stoker ordered Lewis to write a detailed letter of apology to the pilot of the plane that was shot at, place a half-page ad in the local newspaper outlining why what he did wrong, and enroll in and complete a treatment course that addresses the moral causes of criminal behavior.
Lewis, 42, must also prepare a detailed presentation explaining the errors of his action and deliver it during six hunter safety courses.
Stoker said if he isn’t satisfied with the way Lewis handles any of those orders, he will send him to jail for 180 days, said Lynn Dunlap, Lewis’ attorney. If he violates any of the substantial terms of his probation, he will go to the pen for 5 to 10 years, he added.
“It is certainly not a slap on the hand,” Dunlap said. “The judge gave him some harsh probationary terms and my client will certainly comply with them.”
Dunlap said Lewis was upfront with law enforcement about what happened. “He certainly knew what he did was foolish and wrong.”
The Twin Falls County prosecutor’s office had sought a prison term of three years minimum and up to 15 years for Lewis, said prosecuting attorney Grant Loebs.
“We clearly were not OK with the sentence,” Loebs told the Capital Press. “He put the lives of many people in danger by shooting at a flying airplane.”
The letters sent to Stoker by Food Producers of Idaho and other farm groups supported the sentencing sought by Twin Falls County.
FPI member Drew Eggers, a Meridian farmer, said crop dusting is an important tool for farmers and he had hoped Lewis would receive a stiffer sentence.
But he also deferred to the judge.
“I wish he would have had a harsher sentence but it’s out of our hands now. The judge has ruled,” he said.
FPI member Doug Jones, who has a private pilot license and used to scout farm fields at low altitudes, said, “Shooting at an airplane of any kind is a really serious offense.”
But, he added, he wasn’t in the courtroom and he also deferred to Stoker’s judgment.
“Having not heard the courtroom testimony and seen all the evidence, I would have to go with the judge’s opinion, if he enforces all the other conditions he put on that probation,” Jones said.