By all accounts, the act of violence that left a Toledo man paralyzed by a bullet was not what anyone expected from Houston Hart III.
Hart, 28, of 2338 Rockspring Rd., was a longtime employee of St. Paul’s Community Center, a quiet man who stayed out of trouble and took care of his family. On Thursday, he was sentenced to five years in prison by Lucas County Common Pleas Judge James Bates for firing three shots April 25 at Louis Barton, 39, outside the community center on 13th Street.
Hart’s attorney, Meira Zucker, had asked the court to take into account his lack of a criminal record. Hart had just one misdemeanor conviction as an adult before pleading no contest July 15 to felonious assault with a firearm specification for shooting Mr. Barton.
“How often does the court see a record like that for someone who’s been convicted of such a terrible crime?” Ms. Zucker asked. “This incident is so out of character for Houston. It’s so unlike his previous behavior. He’s a gentle man. He’s a family man.”
She said he and Mr. Barton had once done business over a car. That deal had turned Mr. Barton against Hart. The victim, Ms. Zucker said, threatened Hart on different occasions, including the day he and Hart argued at St. Paul’s and Hart went to his car, retrieved a handgun he’d bought legally, and shot Mr. Barton in the arm, side, and neck as he was walking away.
After the shooting, she said, Hart went home and called police.
“He accepted full responsibility for what he did right then and there,” she said. “He’s incredibly remorseful for what happened.”
In a statement read by victim’s advocate Vera Sanders, Mr. Barton’s mother, Yvonne Barton, told the court both she and her son forgive Hart, but they are faced with huge challenges.
“My son is paralyzed from the waist down,” she said. “My son’s [tracheal tube] has to be in place due to the bullet hitting his esophagus. My son’s anxiety is high as well as my anxiety and I stay depressed. Now I have to take care of my son for the rest of his life or mine.”
In a brief statement, Hart apologized to Mr. Barton’s mother “for everything that went down.”
Without comment, Judge Bates imposed the minimum sentence for Hart: a mandatory three years for the gun specification followed by two years for felonious assault, a second-degree felony that carries a possible sentence of two to eight years.
In a separate case, Hart’s father, Houston Hart, Jr., 50, is charged with two counts of murder for the Aug. 3, 2013 death of Joseph Myers, 53, who was beaten and stomped outside the Toledo Gospel Rescue Mission, 1917 Jefferson Ave., where they both lived. A pretrial hearing in that case is set for Sept. 10 before Common Pleas Judge Gary Cook.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.