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N4T Investigators: Confusion in convicted cop-killer’s sentence

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TUCSON - It’s been more than a decade since Tucson Police Officer Erik Hite was shot and killed in the line of duty.

Two Pima County Sheriff's Department deputies were wounded in that cross-town shooting spree.

The man responsible, Nick Delich, had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder four years after he terrorized this community.

The News 4 Tucson's Investigators have learned that Officer Hite's widow and the prosecutor in the case will be heading to the Arizona State Hospital, where Delich was committed after he was sentenced.

For the last eight years, Nohemy Hite believed the man who killed her husband would either die at the Arizona State hospital or in prison. Imagine her surprise when she called the hospital a year ago.

“His review is coming up and this review happens every two years and if the board finds him competent, he can go back into society,” Hite said.

Hite tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, she was shocked by what she heard.

“I said 'Wait a minute that's not what I was told,' and the person I spoke with at the state hospital said you were misinformed,” Hite said.

She couldn't believe what she was hearing. Hite says she remembers vividly being in the courtroom, hearing the judge sentence Delich, and Delich agreeing to the terms of the plea.

“They reassured me that he was going to go to the mental hospital for the rest of his life, and that he was going to start his sentence in prison or jail until he was released from that hospital,” Hite told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

Under the plea agreement, Delich would be held in the state hospital. If at some time the doctor's found he is no longer seriously mentally ill, he would be transferred to the Arizona State Prison to begin serving a life sentence with the possibility of release after 25 years.

“Well, clearly there was some confusion up at the State Hospital in terms of the plea. It is an unusual plea,” said Deputy Pima County Attorney Rick Unklesbay, who prosecuted Delich

“Usually when someone goes to the state hospital they are either found guilty except insane or they're not and here it was sort of a hybrid,” Unkelsbay told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

Unklesbay was also surprised by the confusion.

“In terms of the plea, the plea agreement itself, the sentencing from the judge all clearly show that he is a sentenced prisoner,” Unkelsbay said.

At the end of the month, both he and Hite will be attending the hearing where Delich will be going before the Arizona State Psychiatric Security Review Board, to make sure the Delich's sentence stands.

“I’m just there to explain to them what the plea was about. The fact that he is a sentenced prisoner and what should happen if they determine he is releasable from the state hospital.” Unklesbay told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

For Nohemy Hite, she will relive that tragic day June 1, 2008, when she lost her husband, and her daughter and stepson lost their father.

“It’s something that I will have to deal with that for the rest of my life and so is my daughter,” Hite told News 4 Tucson.

Erik Hite was killed just days before his daughter turned one-year-old.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators will also be going to Phoenix and keep you posted.

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

Paul Birmingham

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