Late in the evening of Jan. 1, 2013, Boulder police Officer Sam Carter aimed a shotgun at a towering trophy elk on Mapleton Hill and pulled the trigger.
As a result of that fatal blast, Carter never again will work as a police officer or be allowed to hunt in Colorado.
But after 20 months of speculation about his future, Carter — now a convicted felon — was allowed to walk out of Boulder courtroom Friday a free man.
Carter, 37, was spared prison time when a judge sentenced the disgraced officer to four years of probation and 200 hours of community service, bringing to a close one of Boulder's most contentious and scrutinized cases in recent memory.
Carter also was sentenced to 30 days on a work crew, and must pay $10,200 in state wildlife fines.
While prosecutors had sought one year in prison, Boulder District Judge Patrick Butler said such a sentence would have been largely symbolic, since Carter likely would be out on parole in a few months.
"I am not interested in symbolic gestures," Butler said during Friday's sentencing hearing. "I want the sentence to benefit the community that was harmed."
Carter did not react as the sentence was read, and did not comment on the judge's decision after leaving the courtroom.
But during the hearing, Carter himself spoke about the case for the first time in public, reading a letter to Butler in which he said he accepted full responsibility for his actions that night.
"I want to apologize to the citizens of Boulder, and I'm asking the court to allow me the chance to repair the damage that I've caused," said Carter, who at times during the reading of the letter appeared to be fighting back tears.
"I am haunted by this incident every day."
After a week-long trial, Carter was convicted in early June of attempting to influence a public official, a Class 4 felony; one count of forgery, a Class 5 felony; and two counts of tampering with evidence, Class 6 felonies.
He also was convicted on counts of first-degree official misconduct, illegal possession of a trophy elk with a Samson Law surcharge, conspiracy to commit illegal possession of wildlife, unlawful taking of a big game animal out of season and unlawful use of an electronic communication device to unlawfully take wildlife.
Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett asked the judge to sentence Carter to one year in prison, citing, in a sentencing memo, that Carter was "arrogant" and "flippant" about the conviction.
"The brazenness of what the defendant did and his actions showed a complete lack of understanding of what the animal meant to the community that he was sworn to serve and protect," Garnett told the judge.
Carter did address the pre-sentence report by saying that he was not arrogant or flippant, but said he was "calloused" as a result of the things he has seen during his days in the military and on the police force.
"I don't show my emotions often; today I make an exception," said Carter, who also apologized to the Boulder Police Department, a group he called his family.
"I hurt that family," Carter said. "I lost a job that I love... I put my life on the line overseas and then for the Boulder community."
Carter said that, as a result of the case, he has had trouble finding a job, lost his house and had to move farther away from his two sons.
"I will live with this every day of my life," Carter said. "I can't go to a grocery store or eat at a restaurant without someone recognizing me."
While Judge Butler said the shooting was "reckless, thoughtless and dangerous to the community," he concluded that Carter's lack of prior criminal history, as well as military and police service, made probation a better fit.
"He has shown from past history that he is capable of being a productive member of society," Butler said.
Marc Colin, Carter's attorney, said the sentence was "well thought-out and well reasoned."
After the hearing, Garnett said he respected the judge's decision and said the sentence was "reasonable," adding that he thought Carter's apology in court was a good step.
"We wish Mr. Carter the best as he deals with this and moves forward," Garnett said.
'A slap in the face'
But for many Boulder residents, probation was not enough.
"This guy deserves to be in prison," said Kathleen Whitney. "He violated community trust as an officer."
Boulder resident James Gold said he was "disgusted" by the sentence.
"I think probation is kind of a slap in the face to the community," Gold said.
Prosecutors say Carter shot the trophy elk in the residential area while on duty on Jan. 1, 2013, then claimed, after the fact, that the animal had been injured and needed to be put down.
Carter did not report he'd fired his weapon that night, or that he needed to kill the elk. Boulder police initially denied knowledge of the shooting because they were not aware of Carter's actions.
Text messages between Carter and another former Boulder police officer, Brent Curnow, showed Carter had planned the kill.
Curnow was charged with the same counts as Carter, but he took a plea deal and received a deferred sentence, 60 days of home detention and probation.
Jeremy Frazao, who lives in the Mapleton Hill neighborhood across the street from where the elk was killed, said he was "disappointed" in Carter's sentence.
"What it comes down to for me, someone discharged a firearm in a neighborhood full of people and full of kids," Frazao said. "To think that he got off so easily is, to me, really disappointing.
"My gut feeling is that he should have done some time."
While some may have mocked Boulder over the outcry for the slain elk, Frazao said that, for residents like him, it hit all too close to home.
"This is a real neighborhood where real people live, and somebody shot a gun," Frazao said. "To me, this is more than a story about some wacky hippies and an elk that got killed."