Thursday, May 29, 2008

Man Gets 10 Years For 2006 Fatal Crash

A 27-year-old man pleaded guilty Wednesday and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in a drunken-driving accident in Howard County in 2006 that killed a Marine and his date.

The Sun said Howard County Circuit Judge Louis A. Becker cited Mexican native Eduardo Raul Morales-Soriano's illegal status in this country for a sentence that exceeds suggested state guidelines for the charges.

The judge said he made his decision "primarily because of the high alcohol read." Morales-Soriano's blood-alcohol level was 0.32 percent, four times the legal limit, at the time of the crash, police have said.

Becker said he also considered an unusual facet of the case: Morales-Soriano, a native of Mexico, was living in the country illegally.

"This court cannot ignore that the defendant has violated the law with his illegal presence here," Becker said.

The judge did not elaborate on how Morales-Soriano's immigration status affected the sentencing.

Here's WaPo's account:

By Raymond McCaffrey

A 27-year-old man pleaded guilty yesterday and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in a drunken-driving accident in Howard County in 2006 that killed a Marine and his date.

In imposing the sentence, Circuit Court Judge Louis A. Becker said he considered that Eduardo Raul Morales-Soriano is an illegal immigrant and that his blood alcohol level was four times the legal limit on the night of the crash.

Morales-Soriano pleaded guilty to two counts of negligent manslaughter in the deaths of Jennifer Bower, 24, of Montgomery Village and her passenger, Cpl. Brian Mathews, 21, of Columbia. Mathews had served eight months in Iraq.

Morales-Soriano, who faces deportation after his release, received the maximum sentence of 10 years for each count. The terms were to be served consecutively, but Becker suspended 10 years.

The plea and sentencing came almost four months after Circuit Court Judge Lenore Gelfman had rejected without explanation a plea agreement that had called for up to eight years in prison.

Mathews's family members had expressed dissatisfaction with the earlier agreement. After the sentencing yesterday, William Mathews, Brian Mathews's father, said, "The longer off the road, the better."

Brad Goldbloom, Morales-Soriano's attorney, asked Becker to follow state sentencing guidelines, which suggested three months to four years for each count his client faced. Goldbloom said that the case had been "portrayed as the illegal immigrant versus the American hero and his girlfriend," and that his client's "illegal status in this country should in no way cause him to suffer a greater penalty."

"He made the very poor and tragic decision to get behind the wheel of an automobile," he said.

State's Attorney Dario J. Broccolino said later that he would have been "more pleased" if the defendant had been sentenced to 20 years in prison. "The drunk driver is often more dangerous than the hit man," he said.

At a hearing Jan. 31, when the earlier plea agreement was rejected, the victims' relatives spoke of young lives full of promise. Mathews had planned to become a teacher, they said, and Bower was studying to become a licensed professional counselor.

Family members did not testify yesterday. "I believe that took a lot out of those families," said Danielle Duclaux, a senior assistant state's attorney.

Morales-Soriano, a Mexican national who had been living in Laurel, wore headphones to listen to an interpreter translating the proceedings into Spanish. He spoke mainly to answer questions posed by the judge. He did not react as he was sentenced.

"I don't know if he was crying," his lawyer said later. "He was upset the whole time."

Morales-Soriano, who had a valid Maryland driver's license, was driving a Nissan Sentra on Thanksgiving 2006 when he struck the rear of the Toyota Corolla that Bower and Mathews were riding in at a red light at routes 108 and 175, fatally injuring the pair.

He had been charged the previous February with drunken driving, but the case was dropped, prosecutors have said, because Howard County police did not collect enough evidence.

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