This is part three of an interview I had with a young man serving a four-and-a-half month sentence for vehicular homicide. We left off last week with him getting bonded out of jail and going to The Med to see his girlfriend, who was critically injured in the accident. He was the driver and had registered roughly double the legal limit for DUI. Another occupant of his died in the accident.
Tell me what it was like seeing Marcia in ICU the first time. Remember that at that time we didn’t know if she would live or die. Here is the mother of your child and the love of your life. What was that like? (Again, Matt became very teary and took a long time to answer.)
It just killed me. She looked like a vegetable. She had tubes coming out of her mouth; you couldn’t recognize that it was her. She was so swollen. Unbelievable.
How helpless did you feel, knowing that not only did you do this but also that you couldn’t help her?
It was the worst time of my life.
At that moment, any thoughts of you being in trouble, was it even an issue?
No. I mean, I knew I was in trouble, but, again, my main focus was on Marcia.
How long did it take before her parents would talk to you? What did they say?
Thank God they talked to me immediately. At that point no one really knew what had happened, you know the whole story.
Your uncle was able to hire Leslie Ballin (a Memphis criminal defense lawyer) for you. What was the first meeting with him like?
With him it was worse case scenario right up front. He gave me the book of law, gave it to me point blank. He had it ready for me, pointed out vehicular homicide, a class-B felony which carried eight to 10 years, and had me read it. He made me read it out loud. He said, “That’s what you’re looking at.” It seemed like a lifetime.
Let me ask you this. Was there ever a conflict, a tug-of-war with your conscience, saying how can I cry about eight to 10 years when Kelli’s life has ended? Have you ever felt bad about feeling bad about going to jail?
You know, I still deal with that. Yeah, I felt bad thinking about that, but I knew I had something coming to me. I still go back and forth. I’m responsible for Kelli’s death. I’ve accepted it. You hear a lot of people tell you you’ve got to put it behind you, you’ve got to move on. And you want to believe things happen for a reason, but that’s hard to believe. In my mind, I killed Kelli, I’m responsible for her death, however you want to put it. Then you also hear that everybody has their time, you know, all part of a plan, it was their time to die. I’m so back and forth. You drive yourself crazy thinking about it. At the end of the day, you know, the only thing that keeps me sane is knowing I still have my family.
It looks like you’ll be out in four and a half months. There will be a lot of people who will think you got off real easy. How do you respond to that? What do you think?
I did (get off easy). If someone were to come up to me and say, “You got off real easy,” I’d say you’re absolutely right.
Let me put it to you another way. The judge, and even the prosecutor, believe that this is a fair sentence. Why do you think they believe this? Kelli’s mom, obviously, does not. Do you believe four and a half months, for vehicular homicide, is a fair sentence?
I think it’s fair. But there is a difference between thinking it’s fair and thinking I got off easy. Where I say I think it’s fair is how it happened. I didn’t intentionally kill Kelli. I made a mistake. For me to live with that every day, you know, is punishment in itself.
What happened to you when, in the courtroom and the judge passed down the sentence, what happened to you?
At first I was told nine months at 100 percent and that I would have to leave right then. I thought to myself, “Wow! Nine months!” But my lawyer was able to ask the judge to give me some time to notify my job and take care of things, and he actually gave me a month before I’d have to begin my sentence.
What did you do during that month? Did you try not to think about it?
That’s exactly what I did.
How fast did the month go by?
It was the fastest month of my life.
Tell me about the day before you had to report.
It was a Sunday. We went to church. Again, we just tried not to think about it. I kind of had my day planned out. We were just going to go to church, eat some lunch and then just hang out at home. That was about it. Just spend time with my family.
What happened on the day you had to report?
Well, we woke up. We had to drop my daughter off at the babysitter. That was really tough. I drove, kind of one last time to drive thing. I really had accepted the nine months. You know, nine months, get in there and get out. Had that mind frame all the way to the moment I walked into the courtroom. I checked in with the officer, told him I was here, and then I prayed for a miracle. Leslie Ballin showed up, told us to wait where we were. He went inside, and when he came back out he told us the news that he had gotten the 100 percent waived and I may only have to do four-and-a-half months.
Did you look at him as if to say, “Are you serious?” I mean, you were afraid to get your hopes up weren’t you?
Well, that’s exactly what I told him. I said, well, you know, we’re not going to get our hopes up. Let’s hold off getting too excited. But then he came back and said, “Once the state prosecutor comes in and if he agrees to waiving the 100 percent you won’t see me again. That’s it.” I said, wait, hold on, what’s the percentage of me doing four-and-a-half months? He said, “There’s a 50-50 chance.” At that point I had hope. Then, I was taken into custody.
Written by Rick Jacobs, a regular columnist for The Bartlett Express. Contact him at email@example.com.