The man accused of killing a Vietnam veteran outside a Rock Hill bar in May has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Eric Cobb received the sentence Tuesday in a courtroom at the Moss Justice Center in York.
Only two weeks earlier, Cobb, 31, had pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the killing of Odell Fields on May 10 in the parking lot of the Sandbar on Celanese Road.
Cobb initially told police he struck Fields, 66, during a confrontation inside the bar, saying Fields was insulting and harassing him, had spit on him and thrown a beer at him, and he only pushed Fields back to try to avoid a fight. But surveillance video from outside the bar shows Fields leaving the bar and walking across the parking lot, followed by Cobb, who had been standing outside for several minutes, running after him and punching him in the head.
Fields apparently struck his head on the ground as he fell and was unresponsive when paramedics arrived. He was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, where he died.
Cobb was arrested a short time later and charged with assault and battery. After Fields’ death, the charges were upgraded to murder.
Solicitor Kevin Brackett said the video, despite Cobb’s claims to the contrary, showed he was the aggressor in the incident and the fatal blow was unprovoked. Brackett said medical examiners showed the punch itself ruptured an artery in Fields’ head and may have killed the older man even if he had not also fractured his skull on impact with the ground.
“He likely never even saw the punch coming,” Brackett said. “He never had a chance to defend himself.”
After hitting Fields, Cobb can be seen raising his arms above his head “in victory,” Brackett said, and reportedly shouted, “one ... punch. That’s all it took.”
Brackett asked Judge Brian Gibbons to impose a maximum 30-year sentence in the case, something that was echoed by family members of the deceased when they addressed the court.
Tammy Fields, Odell Fields’ widow, talked about the devastating effect her husband’s death had on her.
“He didn’t just take one life, he took two,” Fields said, wearing a heart-shaped locket engraved with her name and “Odie.” “I think (Cobb) is a dangerous man. ... There’s something wrong with him. He needs help.”
Brackett also called Cobb a “dangerous man,” citing a long rap sheet that included a previous stint in jail for stabbing someone. At the time of the Fields killing, Cobb had just finished probation on a drug charge, and the black eye Cobb sported at the time of his arrest, investigators learned, resulted from a fight Cobb started at another man’s house days earlier.
The prosecutor said he doubted if Cobb felt any remorse for his actions. He played a recording of a phone call Cobb made from jail to his girlfriend only the night before the hearing, saying he might have to “lay my hands” on somebody in prison, before adding, “I’m good at it. One already learned that the hard way.”
But public defender Harry Dest said Cobb was legitimately remorseful over Fields’ killing, noting that Cobb was seen on video tearfully apologizing to Fields’ family at his initial bond hearing, saying he would trade his life for Fields’ if he could.
“Twenty-four hours after the incident, without the benefit of counsel, the only thing he wanted to do was apologize,” Dest said. “He cried and apologized many times.”
Cobb has struggled with alcohol addiction and has been attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in jail, his attorneys said. Cobb told investigators he drank seven beers prior to killing Fields.
B.J. Barrowclough, the assistant public defender, told the court Cobb was depressed that night because it was Mother’s Day, “and he didn’t have a mother.”
Cobb’s father David Cobb spoke during the sentencing hearing, asking the Fields’ family for their forgiveness.
“I have to deal with the fact that my son caused the death of your husband and father,” he said.
Prior to his arrest, Cobb was working a landscaping job to support his two young daughters, ages 4 and 2, whom he was raising as a single parent. Family friend Elizabeth Styles told the court that losing their father to imprisonment has been difficult for the young girls.
“(One) would ask me if I could go pick her daddy up on my way to work,” Styles said. “I don’t want them to think he left them like their mother did.”
The defense recommended a three- to five-year sentence for their client instead, with the possibility of a longer suspended sentence hanging over his head once he gets out of prison.
During sentencing, Gibbons told Cobb his “idiotic, drunken behavior had cost the life of a beloved man.” But he also acknowledged the death of someone from a single blow was highly unusual and Cobb had not intended to kill Fields. The statute gives the judge broad discretion in imposing a sentence, and Gibbons split the difference between the two recommendations, sentencing Cobb to 15 years’ imprisonment.
Tammy Fields said after the proceeding that she was satisfied with Cobb’s sentence, but said, “There’s no celebrating for us either way. Nothing’s going to bring (Odell) back.
“My heart does go out to the Cobb family, especially the children of Mr. Cobb who are going to grow up without a father,” she said. “But they’ll still get to visit him. My grandchildren can’t visit their paw paw.”
Cobb’s family members declined to comment, and Barrowclough said his client was similarly downcast over the whole episode.
“He’s so focused right now on (losing) his kids,” Barrowclough said. “He’s just sad all around.”