We got at the courthouse about 7:45 (Rusty had been awake since 3:30). They don’t open until 8, so some of us piled into a nearby cafe for coffee (regular; their espresso machine had exploded and its replacement hadn’t arrived). We went over at 8 and got coached in court protocol by the victim advocate. An order for the Victim Impact Statements was set. The judge was to be retired (sitting)judge Joseph R. Kainrad, as rumor had it that Judge Pittman was at the party in D.C. Events were set for 8:30, but were delayed because the prosecutor was late. There were 17 of our guys and about 15 on Nelly’s team (I counted as they came through the door; it would have been rude to look back.) The reserved front bench contained a young woman from the Record-Courier (presumably Marci Piltz, author of this.) and 3 members of the Warren team invited to come up as there was no room in back. The only decoration in the court was a plant and a picture of Abe Lenin Lincoln on the wall.
Proceedings began at 8:52. The judge briefly reviewed the charges. He was curt and no-nonsense, though not in any way hostile, and seemed ancient(he’d been on the bench 40 years). The Victim Impact Statements followed: Rusty, Jessie, Ada, Laurie Ann. Rusty got weepy, but plowed ahead. Hers was longest (as befits the only true victim to still be incarnate), and fact-oriented, as well as having a bit of humor (“We were looking for her next husband”). Then Jessie up with her husband. She was halting at first, but got going. The Nelly crew was audibly pissed when she accused Nelly of deliberation in the homicide; I hadn’t suggested an edit when they were over, because I know better than to step between a woman and her fury; even though statements were to be addressed to the judge, there was plenty of third-person abuse of Ms. Perp to go around. Ada was with hubby and her son Dustin. She got talking about “the holidays” which elicited a “Jeez” from somebody behind me. Laura’s was shortest and dealt principally with the medical bill. This was all done by 9:16.
Then the defense lawyer had his say: Nelly has a loving family too. Weather conditions were not good, Nelly had wanted to turn around (whoops, he’s getting into trouble here with the judge, as Nelly was going home; where would she turn around to? Uh, the bar?), the most remorseful client he’s ever had (probably true; there were those phone calls while Rusty was still in the hospital), these things are a matter of fate — 30 seconds earlier departure by either party would have avoided this (hmmm, wouldn’t that just change the location of the accident?). Then he put Nelly on to apologize. The emaciated woman cried her way through…and I did feel sorry for her, and for her family. That could have been me, when I was young and stupid, though I never got a DUI. And they’re going to lose her. It sucks. But that doesn’t change ultimate responsibility, which nobody was trying to duck (not even the lawyer who was blaming the weather).
The prosecutor then had to clarify the license situation for the judge (as she was driving on a valid license, contrary to the original writeup). The judge philosophized about how hard these cases are, saying “I wish I’d stayed down on the farm in the dairy business”. Then BOOM- the verdict:
For the aggravated vehicular homicide: 4 years
aggravated vehicular assault: 1 year, to be served consecutively
They cuffed her, her family shouted “We love you, Nelly!” And one graceless lout from our crew shouted “She got off easy!”
Then they brought her back. Rusty thought for a moment that they were going to lighten her sentence because one of our folks was rude. No… the judge being old-school had neglected some modern niceties, like explaining post-release control and the penalties for probation violation (Doing maximum time: 8 and 5, respectively.) All done by 9:25 or so.
There was some hand-wringing afterwards, as she’ll be up for judicial review after 2.5 years, and the militant wing of the family took this as “She only got 2 years” (as opposed to “Hanging’s too good for her”, which was their sentiment.) The family lawyer set them straight on this. Oddly, since it’s my wife after all who now has trouble with those “romantic walks around the block”, I felt very dispassionate about things, and think 5 years was a reasonable sentence. 2 would have been a slap in the face, but 8 would have been inappropriate due to mitigating factors. Yes, I want her to serve it all, but I’m more optimistic about that happening than some are (and I’m the guy who doesn’t trust the government, remember?). I’d rather see money than revenge.
There was a brief meeting with the lawyer about insurance stuff (He met today with our first lawyer, who called for the first time in 5 months last night), then 14 of us were off to Cracker Barrel to stuff face. I took Rusty home, got lunch together, and it’s done.