COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Some people say "It's just a dog."
But the law enforcement officers sitting in a Richland County Courtroom Monday disagree. He was their partner, their teammate, their friend. And although they've had two years to deal with the loss of Richland County Sheriff's Department K-9 officer Fargo, they still fought back tears of grief.
"With me here is my extended family," said Deputy Adam Oxendine, who was with Fargo and his partner, Deputy Warren Cavanagh the night he was killed. "Deputy Cavanagh lost more than a colleague, a friend that night. I've seen that dog do some amazing things."
Prosecutors say after Oxendine helped Fargo get over a fence while chasing 24-year-old Maurice Anton McCreary, he tore his ACL climbing over the same fence.
Oxendine's voice broke as he fought back tears while asking Judge Robert Hood to consider the loss of Fargo while sentencing McCreary.
McCreary pleaded guilty to five counts of attempted murder and the unlawful killing of a police dog Monday. Prosecutors agreed to drop an armed robbery charge and another attempted murder charge against him.
McCreary was arrested in December of 2011 after an armed robbery in North Columbia. As he ran from Richland County Sheriff's deputies, McCreary admitted he fired several shots at officers and shot and killed K-9 officer Fargo. Prosecutors said at the hearing the search for McCreary was one of the biggest manhunts in county history.
Sheriff Leon Lott was among the dozen deputies who attended the hearing. They asked Hood to send a message to others that there are severe consequences for shooting at a law enforcement officer.
"He tried to kill them," said Lott of McCreary. "Fargo saved every one of them (the officers). They're here today because of Fargo. He cared about every one of them."
"I feel like K-9 Fargo was a hero that night," said a Columbia Police Officer who was also at the scene the night of the chase. "Without him, it could have been one of us."
"Fargo was part of our family," Cavanagh told the judge. "Fargo did what he was trained to do. He made the ultimate sacrifice so all of these officers could go home to their families."
"I panicked. I was scared. I freaked out a little. I accept full responsibility," said McCreary as he apologized to Hood and the officers in the courtroom. "It was never my intention to take another life."
"This has affected how some officers performed their duties moving forward," said Deputy Solicitor Dan Goldman.
"The job is getting more and more dangerous every day," said RCSD investigator Lt. Scott McDonald.
After accepting McCreary's plea, Hood sentenced him to 35 years. McCreary faced 30 years for each attempted murder charge, which could have been ordered to run sequentially.