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Judge sets aside plea agreement, gives prison time to Billings man for 2015 murder

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BILLINGS - The plea agreement for the Billings man who fatally shot his friend in 2015 spared him from prison, but at his Thursday sentencing, the judge sentenced him to prison anyway.

Jose Cobos, 64, was sentenced in Yellowstone County District Court to 20 years to the Montana State Prison with 10 years suspended.

Cobos pleaded guilty to negligent homicide for the death of Mark Kirby.

As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors recommended a sentence of 15 years to the Department of Corrections with 10 suspended and a recommendation to veterans treatment court, CAMO.

But Judge Mary Jane Knisely said she was uncomfortable with the plea agreement and sentenced Cobos to prison.

"This man's life was ended in a flash with a .45 (caliber gun) that you had a license to carry and the experience to handle," said Knisely, noting Cobos' military experience. "You were given honors in the handling of weapons. Weapons 101, you don't mix alcohol and weapons, you don't point weapons where you don't want them to go."

Cobos shot and killed Kirby while the two were drinking together in their West End neighborhood.

Cobos initially told the vicitm's wife that he was under attack and shot Kirby in self defense.

"You acted so carelessly then proceeded to lie so bluntly to me, accusing my husband while he lay so innocently on the driveway and could not speak for himself," said Kirby's widow, Shelly Kirby.

Cobos later claimed he didn't remember anything from that night.

Chief Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Ed Zink asked Cobos at sentencing whether he stood by his claim that he remembered nothing.

Cobos declined to answer.

"I'm having a hard time answering your question," said Cobos. "But the first thing I think about when I wake up is Mark and his family."

While on the stand, Cobos' defense attorney questioned him about his military experience. Cobos said he served more than two decades in the military and witnessed horrific moments in war that left him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Friends of Cobos testified that he is a kind, generous and spiritual man.

"He has really devoted his life, I think, to doing good and helping others," said Rosemary Reynolds, who met Cobos through church.

Prosecutors argued that Kirby, too, was a veteran, as well as a family man who dedicated his life to service.

"It's difficult as a criminal justice system to ever put a price on a human life, but Mark Kirby was an exceptional man an exceptional family man and a valued friend to so many in the community and his loss is deeply felt," said Zink.

Kirby's son, Brandon, and his wife, Shelly, also testified about what an intellectual and passionate person he was.

"I've lost my confidant, best friend, father and intellectual match," Brandon Kirby said at sentencing. "There was so much potential left in his life that will never be realized."

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