TYLER, Texas (KETK) – A Central Texas man received a new, probated sentence earlier this week for a 2016 fatal crash on Grande Boulevard that killed 21-year-old Haile Beasley.
47-year-old James Fulton was convicted of criminally negligent homicide for the crash a year later and sentenced to 10 years in prison, the maximum allowed by Texas law.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Fulton’s sentence, but not his conviction, due to ineffective counsel and ordered a new punishment trial. By the time of the appeals court ruling, Fulton had spent 20 months behind bars.
After a week’s worth of testimony, a Smith County jury sentenced Fulton to a seven-year probated sentence following more than six hours of deliberations. The jury was made up of nine women and three men.
The jury found that Fulton was eligible for his sentence to be probated. Under Texas law, this allows for the judge to set the terms of what the probated sentence would be.
241st District Court Judge Jack Skeen ruled that a six-month stint in the Smith County Jail would be part of the sentence along with spending 10 years on probation. Other stipulations include an alcohol training seminar, community service, and learning about victims of similar crimes.
If Fulton were to violate any of his probation terms, he would then spend seven years in prison, with the 20 months he served in his original sentence counting toward it.
Fulton testified on his own behalf during the resentencing phase where he offered a tearful apology to the Beasley family.
John Hodges, Fulton’s attorney since his appeal started, thanked the jury in a phone interview with KETK News about their lengthy deliberation earlier this week.
“The jury’s verdict reflects the gravity of [Fulton’s] offense, but recognizes the evidence in this case that James is the perfect candidate for a probated sentence,” he said.
Fulton has not started his six-month sentence due to jail overcrowding in Smith County. Hodges said he is awaiting word from law enforcement on when to report back.
A key point of the resentencing trial was the effect alcohol may have played in the crash. Fulton had multiple beers over the course of several hours the day of the accident.
However, it was highly likely Fulton was never legally intoxicated. Expert witnesses testified that his blood-alcohol level was likely near .04, which is half the legal limit. Fulton said on the stand he felt no effects of impairment.
Smith County prosecutor Heath Chamness pressed Fulton about his claim of being distracted by some kind of animal as he rounded a curve on Grande Boulevard.
Chamness pointed out that Fulton was swerving out of his lane and crossed the center line seconds before it would have been possible to see an animal. He based this questioning off a drawing on a map Fulton made during a deposition.
Fulton responded he was making a generalization of where the animal might have been, not an exact location.
The DA’s office has not immediately returned a request for comment.
In an interview with KETK News in 2019, Beasley’s family talked about the pain that was still with them.
“He just gets to walk out and go back to his family, and he gets to travel to see his kids play baseball or football or whatever, and he gets to live life and I get to go to the cemetery and visit my child.”JENNIFER WHITTMORE, HAILE BEASLEY’S MOTHER
Whittmore said she believes the proof of his guilt centers on his negligence that night while driving, which is what he was ultimately charged with.
Hodges added after nearly six years, “there are no winners in this case.”
“The Fulton family recognized how difficult the impact this has had on both families and asks for both to have their privacy.”
Last year, the Tyler City council approved a near-$100,000 contract to study the infamous stretch of the road.