One punch left a family in mourning.
On Wednesday, a Hall County judge heard emotional family members of Deotris Mize describe the loss they felt after he suffered fatal injuries outside the Gainesville nightclub he ran.
On the night of Oct. 18, 2008, Mize was punched in the face by 25-year-old Oscar Reyes, fell back and struck his head on the pavement. He was hospitalized and died a month and a day after the incident from head injuries at age 24.
“It’s very hard,” said Mize’s mother, Carolyn Mize. “I go through struggles every day. He had so much potential.”
Said Mize’s grandmother, Faye Bush, “This has been the worst thing I’ve experienced in my 75 years, to see my grandson die a senseless death, as Deotris did.”
Reyes pleaded guilty in Hall County Superior Court on Wednesday to two counts of involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to seven years in prison in a negotiated plea agreement. He must serve an additional 13 years on probation and will be banished from Hall and Dawson counties.
“You’ve inflicted a lot of pain on a lot of people for what appears to be a really ridiculous reason,” Judge Bonnie Chessher Oliver told Reyes.
District Attorney Lee Darragh said Reyes was angry with Mize because Reyes believed his stepfather should be paid for singing a couple of songs at Mize’s nightclub, Options, located near Schlotzky’s Deli at the corner of Broad Street and E.E. Butler Parkway.
Darragh said during the confrontation, Mize retrieved a handgun from his truck, which he had a license for “and had every right to have and use.”
“He held it in such a position that (Reyes) would be able to see it,” Darragh said. “He never pointed it at Oscar Reyes, never threatened him with it, but he did have it.”
Darragh said the confrontation calmed down, and at a time when Mize was off-guard, Reyes “reared back” and punched him in the face, causing him to fall and strike his head on the pavement.
After the incident and before police arrived, someone removed the gun from Mize’s back pocket and hid it, which created “difficulties” for prosecutors if the case were to go to trial, Darragh said.
“I recognize that Deotris Mize did nothing wrong that night,” Darragh said.
Reyes’ attorney, Troy Millikan, told the judge that “everyone knows that blow was not intended to result in death. It was just one blow and a freakish fall. He didn’t intend to take his life, but he did.”
Family members said they were not entirely satisfied with the negotiated sentence. The maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter is 10 years.
“I believe the sentence should be stiffer, I really do, your honor,” the victim’s brother, Greg Mize, told the judge.
“Put in my place, what would you want? Would you want more time?” Carolyn Mize said. “That’s not enough time. But whatever you decide, I thank your honor.”
Oliver said she would accept the negotiated plea and follow the prosecution’s sentencing recommendation because the facts of what occurred after the fatal punch “could be an issue” if the case had gone to trial before a jury.
“I’m hesitant to roll the dice,” Oliver said.
Reyes turned toward the Mize family and apologized.
“Miss Carolyn, I’m really sorry,” he said. “I mean it from the bottom of my heart, I really am.”