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#917748 - 12/10/04 06:50 AM You Be The Sentencing Judge
Cindysphinx Offline

Registered: 02/14/03
Posts: 6416
Loc: Washington D.C. Metro
What a tragedy all around.

A high school kid gets drunk, drives fast, and kills two of his best friends. He survives. What sentence would you give him?

I think if you kill someone due to your own recklessness, you absolutely must do a minimum of one year in jail. Five months for killing two teens is not enough.

It wouldn't take much to convince me that this poor guy has suffered enough, though . . .


Families Agonize Over Sentencing of Man in Crash That Killed 2 Friends

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 10, 2004; Page A01

Hands trembling, face flushed, voice a terrified croak, Justin Lapier, 20, tried to explain yesterday how he felt about having killed two of his best friends. " 'I'm sorry' doesn't cut it," he told their parents in a Spotsylvania County courtroom. " 'I'm sorry' is what I'd say if I broke something in your house."

In a letter to the judge, Lapier described how it happened -- how he was drinking and driving that April night before the accident, how he revved up his new Acura shortly before dawn because his friends "wanted to see what my car could do." What it could do -- before it flipped on a winding country road in central Virginia -- was at least 95 mph.

So when the judge sentenced Lapier to five months in jail, the courtroom suddenly went silent of crying for the first time all afternoon -- the quiet of parents left without resolution, with rocked families and ruined friendships and a sense that the price for all that would not be paid. Lapier faced a maximum 10-year prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter.

"He showed no remorse," said Mike Hill, whose stepson, Chad, 19, was one of the victims and whose wife, Cathy, grieved herself into a psychiatric ward.

After a series of fatal Washington area accidents involving teenage drivers, the story of the crash is a window into the lifelong, life-changing consequences for those who survive. The incident exploded like a land mine not only among families, but also among a group of friends who graduated from Courtland High School in 2002 and no longer talk to each other.

"Some people are going to be mad and some people are going to be happy. It's like a Catch-22," Justin Burtner, a member of the group, said of the sentencing. He said he quit his job at a furniture warehouse because he was too upset over the accident to work. He no longer talks to Lapier, a Navy airman whose father describes him as suicidal.

As yesterday's sentencing hearing approached, feelings about the proper punishment were complicated and mixed. They were no less complicated after Lapier was led from the courtroom.

"It could sort of be the end after all this," said Maria O'Neal, whose son Christopher, 20, also died in the accident.

Earlier, she testified that his death led her and her husband to seek counseling and left their younger son unable to discuss his brother. "All our dreams are shattered," she said.

According to the plea agreement, the accident unfolded on a cell-phone call between O'Neal and a friend, Allison Lindsey, 15, whom he called from the car. "She received an excited call from Chris O'Neal at 4:25 a.m., stating that he was riding in the defendant's car and that the defendant was traveling 90 to 100 miles per hour. And then the phone went dead."

Commonwealth's Attorney William Neely asked Circuit Court Judge William Ledbetter to sentence Lapier to two years -- a year for each life lost. "It sort of says: What are these two lives worth? It gives measure," Neely said.

But the path wasn't always clear for Neely. Initially, the families were divided. The O'Neals wanted a tough sentence for Lapier, but Cathy Hill said immediately after the accident that she didn't want her son's friend to go to jail. She asked Lapier to be a pallbearer at Chad's funeral

Although she wavered in the following months, Hill still was saying Wednesday that jail wasn't the answer.

"My kid could have been driving, and I try to put myself into [Lapier's] place," she said. "I'm not saying he should get off -- a lot needs to be done with him. He needs therapy, and he should suffer, but as far as community service and his pocketbook goes. I don't see what putting someone in jail like that does."

She also noted that Lapier's elder brother was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1996. "I think he's dead inside," she said. "He never sheds a tear."

But Wednesday, Hill's feelings changed. She read the letter Lapier submitted to Ledbetter as part of the sentencing package and was enraged at the picture it painted. The letter described the young men's trip to a strip club in Maryland the night before the accident, drinking beer as they went, and then deciding as dawn approached to test the car's speed.

"Coming back my friends pointed me down Massaponnax Church Road. They wanted to see what my car could do," he wrote. The Hills and the O'Neals said that they were furious that the letter painted their sons as the primary instigators in drinking and going to the strip club and that they didn't find it remotely repentant.

They also saw Lapier's demeanor as a sign of his lack of remorse. During the 90-minute sentencing, he mostly had his face buried in his hands, his face on the table or his left hand extended vertically along the side of his face, like a shield against the eyes of his friends' families.

His own parents sat behind him. His father, Gary, told the other parents from the witness stand that "the tears on your face can't equal the tears that boy has shed in his heart." His mother, Sharon, testified that she knew their pain, having lost a son in an accident. She said Justin cried many times on her shoulder "and said, 'I wish I could take Chris or Chad's place.' "

Lapier told his friends' parents that he never sought to shift blame. "I was trying to take responsibility by pleading guilty," he said, describing his lifestyle now as monklike. "I can't come talk to you all because I don't know what to say."

The ripples continued after the sentencing. A neighbor who bought beer for the friends was sentenced to two months in jail. Lapier is waiting to hear whether he can stay in the Navy when he gets out of jail. Cathy Hill, who said she just returned home from treatment at a psychiatric facility, will try to take care of the rest of her family.

"The only thing that keeps me from killing myself is my two [younger] sons," she said. "But I can't be a mother to them right now because I can't stand being around them. I'm terrified of losing them."

Although Hill said she is unable to work, she still goes every other Wednesday to speak to teenagers who are about to get their driver's licenses, telling them about the dangers of driving.

As a PowerPoint photo presentation flipped past in another courtroom Wednesday, she narrated: "This is where Chad used to live," she said of a photo of their home. "This is where we used to be a family."

The next shot was of his grave. "This is where I get to go every day to see him now."
Vote For Cindy!!


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#917749 - 12/10/04 07:05 AM Re: You Be The Sentencing Judge
kenny Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 7051
How very tragic.
There is no right solution.
Nothing will make things all better.

The education effort for new teens getting about to get their licenses has to be the only bright spot here.

As to the punishment, I'd lean towards the maximum sentence side.
What this kid did is about as bad as it gets.
No he didn't premeditate murder but this kind of stupidity and immaturity killed two people.
This cant just be blown off as youth and inexperience.
Even if it "helps" nobody a long sentence seems the right karma.

#917750 - 12/10/04 08:31 AM Re: You Be The Sentencing Judge
markjpcs Offline

Registered: 08/31/04
Posts: 3171
Loc: Wisconsin
5 months! That's ridiculous!

I would have gone 24 months mandatory at which time parole would be considered. Parole not given mind you, but considered.

I would like this person to serve 4-8 years. 2-4 for each person he killed. Accidently yes, but alcohol is the underlying circumstance for my "harsh" sentence. 10 years does not seem that long considering two people died.

#917751 - 12/10/04 04:36 PM Re: You Be The Sentencing Judge
Wacky Iraqi Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/08/04
Posts: 213
Loc: England
He gets a true life sentence how he punctuates it is the real question.
If you keep a green bough in your heart the songbird will always come.

#917752 - 12/26/04 01:56 PM Re: You Be The Sentencing Judge
JMortgage Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 12/21/04
Posts: 2
Mark, what is ridiculous is to make statements when you do not know the situation or the circumstances.

Justin is dead inside. He has lost his brother and lost his 2 best friends. Either of which could have been driving the car as they were all willing participants.

There is nothing good about this situation and it is wrong as well as heartbreaking that those two men died. However, they all chose to get in that vehicle. (After drinking to the point where a rational decision was out of the question.)

So as far as your mandatory sentence, that is an uneducated statement better left for drug dealers. Justin was responsible for his actions and plead guilty. The article stated he had no remorse. Those people are morons. He openly cried for weeks and weeks. The event overwhelmed him. Did you hear the 911 phone call? I doubt it. If you had you would know what he tried to do after the fact and the mental condition he was in.

Personally, I despise the press and spin they put on things. You never hear about all the good things soldiers in Iraq are going for the civilians. They far outweigh the negative things but what makes the news?

5 months! That's ridiculous!

I would have gone 24 months mandatory at which time parole would be considered. Parole not given mind you, but considered.

I would like this person to serve 4-8 years. 2-4 for each person he killed. Accidently yes, but alcohol is the underlying circumstance for my "harsh" sentence. 10 years does not seem that long considering two people died.

#917753 - 01/05/05 08:22 AM Re: You Be The Sentencing Judge
Cindysphinx Offline

Registered: 02/14/03
Posts: 6416
Loc: Washington D.C. Metro
Either of which could have been driving the car as they were all willing participants.
Well . . . I wouldn't go that far.

When you take the wheel, you and only you are responsible for safeguarding your passengers. The boys who died are minors, I'm guessing, and are hardly in a position to consent to their own slaughter.

Personally, I'm inclined to show mercy to people who simply make a mistake (frazzled parent forgets child is in overheated car, parent forgets to buckle child's seat belt). But once you put alcohol into the mix, I think drivers have to do some time, myself.

JMortgage, do you know these folks personally or something?
Vote For Cindy!!


#917754 - 01/15/05 09:47 PM Re: You Be The Sentencing Judge
JMortgage Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 12/21/04
Posts: 2
Yes, I know those involved and no one was a minor. They were all over 18 and certainly considered to be in a "culpable mental state" as defined at least by New York State law. (This took place in Virginia.) Prior to the drinking that is...

You see, at their level of intoxication, you leave the world of "culpable mental state". This is the same reason why you cannot enter into a legally binding contract with someone who is intoxicated. Tragically, all involved made a very poor decision due to this deplorable factor.

Regarding the parent forgetting the child. As a parent, I would have less mercy for someone who forgets their own child. That is purely irresponsible unless they there were some type of exigent circumstances resulting in the death. Each case should certainly be analyzed closely to determine the appropriate punishment or lack there of. Most importantly, I am not the judge or jury.

Regardless, my post was stating the following. To make uninformed judgments upon people you do not or did not even know is unfair. Drinking and driving is absolutely wrong. Being present for the death of your friends and accepting responsibility is the right thing to do. Submission and acceptance of consequence. I am sure any of them would have done the same.


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