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Cop to man who shot him: 'I forgive you'

Donald Goins sentenced to life for shooting JSO officer John Benson

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville man will spend the rest of his life behind bars after firing seven shots at a police officer during a traffic stop in 2014.

That officer, John Benson, took the stand Tuesday at a sentencing hearing for Donald Goins and had a surprising message for the man who fired that weapon at him.

"I want you to know that I do not hate you. I am not even angry with you," Benson said. "The truth is that I genuinely care for your well-being, sir."

According to police, Goins, 34, had illegal drugs and guns inside his car in April 2014 when Benson pulled him over.

When Benson stepped out of his patrol car, Goins began shooting at the officer, state attorneys said.

Benson was struck in his upper right arm. State attorneys said Benson managed to return fire on Goins, who then fled the scene. Goins was arrested later that evening. He was not shot.

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A jury found Goins guilty in August of second-degree attempted murder of a law enforcement officer, possession of cocaine, possession of hydrocodone, possession of less than 20 grams of cannabis and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

A judge ruled Tuesday that Goins would spend the rest of his life in prison.
Benson said his message of forgiveness for Goins is about love -- even for the man that he said tried to end his life.

"I want you to know that I forgive you for trying to take my life, my future from me. I want you to know that I forgave you on the very first day our paths first crossed," Benson said. "I know that everyone has made mistakes in life that we must then seek repentance for. There is nothing that cannot be forgiven by God."

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Benson said God has forgiven him for so much, he wants to share that forgiveness.

"It's the power of love," Benson said. "That's what it is."

Despite his forgiveness, Benson still asked the judge to sentence Goins to life in prison.

It's something Goins' family members said he didn't deserve.

"I understand that he was convicted of a crime, so punishment is applicable, but I don't understand the life sentence. That is a bit radical," Goins' nephew Vaughn Shack said. "Because he is like the family hero. I didn't have a dad. That's like my father figure."

"He is a good person," Goins' cousin Alicia Hargrove said. "I mean, I feel that if you were going to try and sentence him today, it should be a lesser sentence than life."

But that wasn't enough to convince the judge, who brought up Goins' criminal history, which includes 10 felony convictions.

Judge Tatiana Salvador said Goins is a danger to the community.

"The fact is, he is a citizen of this community, like anybody else, and he, like anybody else that comes before me, deserves the protection that this court can afford and can give," Salvador said of Benson. "And I am going to get it to him -- and to every other citizen of Jacksonville, to the county -- today by sentencing you on count one to life in prison."

Benson said those words brought him closure, and he hopes his words of forgiveness inspire others, including Goins.

Goins' relatives left the courtroom right after the judge read the verdict and were visibly upset by her decision.

Goins' lawyer has already filed a motion for a new trial. That will be heard next month.