Vehicular homicide sentence stands, judge says

A 15-year sentence for vehicular homicide was kept in place Wednesday after Superior Court Judge Michael Annis was asked to reconsider the maximum sentence he imposed in March.

Annis made the order after weighing emotional testimony from the family of Whitney Revis against pleas from Christopher Roberts’ attorney, Shawn Hammond, not to confuse retribution for rehabilitation.

Annis seemed inclined to take a few years off the sentence but ultimately said he couldn’t ignore that Roberts had two previous DUI arrests and another wreck in 1992 that paralyzed a man from the waist down.

“What I’m hung up on is that this is not the first traumatic event (involving his driving),” Annis said. “At some point, something must be done to protect society.”

Protecting society was the main argument Hammond made for releasing his client early and placing him under an intense probation that would include 400 hours of community service a year, mandatory Alcoholics Anonymous classes and random screenings for alcohol use.

The most recent charge against Roberts, 37, whom Hammond described as a “lifelong alcoholic,” stemmed from a June 4, 2011, accident, when he crashed into a barrier on the on ramp of Bobby Jones Expressway at Doug Barnard Parkway. The impact flung Revis, 20, into the windshield and fatally injured her.

Revis “basically passed away due to the decision by this defendant to drink and drive, yet again,” said Assistant District Attorney John Markwalter.

Roberts received 36 months’ probation for DUI in 2000, then in 2002 was arrested again for DUI. Through an administrative error at the solicitor’s office, the case was disposed of and not prosecuted. Records show the case has been reopened. In 1992, he was charged in connection with a wreck that paralyzed a man, but he was not drinking in that incident.

In making his case for reducing Roberts’ incarceration to no more than seven years in prison, Hammond set out several options for Annis to consider. He suggested community service every Saturday and Sunday for a year, picking up trash or performing some other manual duty. Hammond also asked for a fine of $50 be paid every Friday, not a simple lump sum that could be paid off with a single tax refund. Most important, Hammond wanted intense rehabilitation to help Roberts kick his addiction.

“He’s just like an animal you put in a cage,” Hammond said. “He’s going to be the same, if not worse, coming out of the cage.”

Markwalter and the victim’s family pleaded with Annis not to change his mind about the tough sentence he had previously imposed. Family friend Joy Batchelor said giving Roberts probation will only convince others that the penalties are not severe.

“The cemeteries are filling up with our children because nothing is being done,” she said.

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