ATLANTA -- A case followed around the world came down Thursday to this moment of justice: How hard would a Fulton County judge come down on Arthur Bruce Tesler, the Atlanta police officer convicted of lying to investigators in the botched drug-raid death of a 92-year-old woman?
It took about 45 minutes in a courtroom packed with family members, activists, reporters and politicians to get the answer: About as hard as the law would allow.
"The sentence is five years --- four years and six months of it in prison," Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson said after listening to pleas for leniency from Tesler's lawyer, friends, wife and Tesler himself.
"I'm truly sorry for what happened," Tesler said, his voice choking with emotion, as he apologized to the woman's family. "I want to do as much as I can to see that it never happens again."
Tesler's wife of 14 years, Kelli Tesler, urged the judge to give her husband and father of their four children a light sentence. "I know my husband's heart is heavy, and his sorrow runs deep for both the Johnston family and his own," she said.
Tesler, 42, was the third Atlanta police officer convicted in the shooting 18 months ago of Kathyrn Johnston. He was the only one of three officers charged in the November 2006 incident who didn't fire a single bullet in the fusillade of 39 rounds that took Johnston's life.
Stiff as the sentence was under the statute --- the maximum sentence was five years --- Tesler got off relatively lightly compared to the sentences facing Officers Jason R. Smith and Gregg Junnier. If he had been convicted of all three charges brought against him, Tesler would have faced 20 years in prison. But a jury Tuesday acquitted him of false imprisonment and violating his oath of office.
Smith and Junnier last year pleaded guilty in federal court to voluntary manslaughter and other federal and state charges.
They could be sentenced to 10 or more years in federal prison.
Their sentencing hearings are pending.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, a New York activist, arrived with an entourage and watched from the jury box as Atlanta police Chief Richard Pennington said at the sentencing hearing that the Johnston case had been tremendously demoralizing to the force.
"We don't train our officers to mistreat and abuse citizens of our community," Pennington said.
After the hearing, Sharpton said, "I think the trial brought out what we've been saying for years --- that there's a corruption problem" with the criminal justice system everywhere.
Community activist and Johnston family spokesman Markel Hutchins said the sentence was about as hard as the judge could issue, and "a small measure of justice" had been achieved.
He said that he and the Johnston family and the family's lawyers would meet with U.S. Department of Justice officials over the next few days and decide whether to ask federal prosecutors to press a case against Tesler.
Georgia state Rep. Mable Thomas (D-Atlanta), former Atlanta city councilman turned radio show host Derrick Boazman and state Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) then marched, chanting "No Peace, No Justice," with a few supporters, up Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to the office of U.S. Attorney David Nahmias, where Fort left a letter demanding that Tesler be prosecuted for federal civil rights violations.
About an hour later, Nahmias issued a statement saying federal investigations led to the convictions of Smith and Junnier and two other Atlanta police officers, and he would now weigh whether to prosecute Tesler, too.