Lawrence Branch
Lawrence Branch (Courtesy of San Juan County Adult Detention Center)

AZTEC — A Kirtland man was sentenced Wednesday to four years in prison for shooting his son in the leg.

Lawrence Branch, 56, shot his adoptive son, Joshua Branch, 32, at the family's property on County Road 6255 on May 7, 2012. He was convicted of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, negligent use of a firearm and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after a two-day trial May 30 and 31 with District Judge William Birdsall presiding.

Lawrence Branch was facing a three- to seven-year prison sentence at Wednesday's hearing.

Prosecutors asked for a seven-year sentence.

"Joshua (Branch) is lucky to have his leg and to be alive. It could have been a homicide," Assistant District Attorney Ken Stalter said.

The shot broke Joshua Branch's femur and struck his femoral artery. He still walks with crutches and has had five surgeries. He continues to work to rehabilitate his leg from circulation issues he has because of the shooting.

Birdsall ruled Lawrence Branch will serve four years for the aggravated battery conviction, and the sentences for the other two counts can be served concurrently with the aggravated battery sentence. It will allow Lawrence Branch to get out of prison once he serves at least 85 percent of his four-year sentence.

"This case troubles me. It concerns me Mr. (Lawrence) Branch has been a law-abiding citizen," Birdsall said. "But I'm very troubled about (Joshua Branch's) injuries. And I'm not impressed by the self-defense argument. It appears Mr. Branch got mad, got a gun and shot his son in the leg."

Lawrence Branch unsuccessfully argued in court that he shot his son in self-defense because of Joshua Branch's military training and experience.

Joshua Branch is a former Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lawrence Branch said his son was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after his time in the military, and because of that, Lawrence Branch feared for his life during an argument and shot his son with a .44-caliber revolver.

Joshua Branch said the four-year sentence appeared short for the seriousness of the crime. But he was more troubled that his father tried to use his son's military service to justify a shooting.

"Where's the support? While I was in a war, I had all the support in the world, and then I came back, and I'm just a vet. You can shoot a vet and slander a vet and have the ability to use (their military experience) against them?" Joshua Branch said after the hearing. "Why is it coming out that I'm some trained killer? I was trained for a lot of things -- discipline was the main one."

Lawrence Branch didn't speak at his sentencing hearing. Brad Kerwin, his attorney, said it was a crime of passion and asked for the minimum sentence.

Lawrence Branch had been out of jail on bond since the day after the shooting. He was taken into custody after the hearing.

Ryan Boetel covers crime and San Juan County for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and rboetel@daily-times.com. Follow him @rboetel on Twitter.