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Woman sent to prison for fatal 2011 wreck

Judge hands down 20-year sentence

Wednesday, Aug 14, 2013 1:15 PM
Last updated Thursday, Aug 15, 2013 7:10 AM
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An Augusta woman was sentenced to prison after being convicted in a 2011 wreck that killed a Barnwell, S.C., teen.

Kristine Marie Heath, 37, was sentenced to 20 years in prison followed by 10 years on probation for vehicular homicide in the death of 18-year-old Morgan Renew.  JIM BLAYLOCK/STAFF
JIM BLAYLOCK/STAFF
Kristine Marie Heath, 37, was sentenced to 20 years in prison followed by 10 years on probation for vehicular homicide in the death of 18-year-old Morgan Renew.


After two days of testimony and more than three hours of deliberation, a Columbia County jury found Kristine Marie Heath, 37, guilty of vehicular homicide, five counts of serious injury by vehicle and failure to stop at a stop sign.

Superior Court Judge Michael N. Annis sentenced Heath to 20 years in prison followed by 10 years on probation.

“I’m not seeing an acceptance of responsibility, none at all,” Annis said at the sentencing after the trial at the Columbia County courthouse in Evans.

“I’m shocked by the total lack of remorse or concern or emotion, that you realize that you’ve just taken a life.”

On June 17, 2011, Heath and six passengers were leaving a family reunion at a Ridge Road campground in Appling when she ran a stop sign at the intersection of Washington Road. Her Ford Explorer was hit by a Jeep Cherokee driven by Angel Herrin, of Augusta.

Morgan Renew, 18, of Barnwell, S.C., was a backseat passenger and was partially ejected from a window. She died from her injuries.

Several people were in Heath’s vehicle and Herrin, her husband and 8-year-old daughter suffered serious injuries.

“I’m sorry is not enough,” Heath told the Renews and Herrin. “I wish I could take it all away. If there was anything I could do to change this, I would.

“I am sorry. I am.”

Throughout the two-day trial, Heath’s attorney, Pete Theodocion, maintained that Heath was not impaired by alcohol, though she admitted to drinking two beers before the wreck.

The jury did not find her guilty of vehicular homicide because she was driving under the influence, but because she was distracted and driving too fast.

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mtj704
23
Points
mtj704 08/15/13 - 08:23 am
6
0
Who is the judge to say that

Who is the judge to say that she isn't remorseful? Of course she feels remorse, but it's been two years and her life is on the line - she probably has a thousand emotions right now. Should she falsely intensify certain ones? She's apologizing genuinely, not overdramatizing in order to cover her behind. I guess being genuine is looked down upon? Her family members were hurt in the accident, too. There is no doubt that she's suffered and is suffering for her actions. 20 years is way too harsh in my opinion.

SCGirl87
52
Points
SCGirl87 08/15/13 - 08:29 am
7
0
As someone that knows those

As someone that knows those are the facts. Everyone is in complete shock. People can be distracted by various things such as radios, children, etc. according to this judge and jury maybe those should be banned from vehicles as well. This sentence was is outrageous especially when people intentionally kill someone get much less time. I believe this jury and judge did not do there job. They let their opinions of the defendant (that they developed in a matter of hours) control their decision instead of focusing on the facts. This is an abuse of power and a failure of the justice system. This woman is kind and loves her family more than life. she has been remorseful. Now two families are ruined.

seenitB4
97601
Points
seenitB4 08/15/13 - 08:29 am
6
1
Something isn't right here

20 years...20??

This was an accident....right? I can see some payback but NOT 20 years....winding road.....trees galore all around....any of us could miss a sign, it happens...I wish the punks committing the crimes got jail time like this.

internationallyunknown
5018
Points
internationallyunknown 08/15/13 - 08:36 am
1
7
These comments. This lady

These comments. This lady caused someone else to die. Period.

What if the lady in the Riverwatch incident gets a similar sentence....would the comments be the same?

Austin Rhodes
2989
Points
Austin Rhodes 08/15/13 - 08:49 am
5
6
I don't post much here anymore...

...because I am tired of having my comments deleted randomly...but I got an email from a family member of the victim asking me to answer this...

Kristine Heath admitted to drinking that night, but she refused to sign a consent form for the alcohol test, and the MEDICAL blood level test she received at the hospital was lost. I got an interesting note, a very long note from a juror last night...they seemed to think there was a conspiracy among her friends and contacts to cover up certain facts.

I have no idea if those theories are valid...but that was the opinion of one juror. BTW...the length of the sentence can always be adjusted, unlike a LIGHT sentence, which is permanent. No appeals exist for victims or survivors.

...point to ponder
779
Points
...point to ponder 08/15/13 - 08:56 am
4
2
...causing a death deserves punishment....

....but, as other writers have pointed out there are events/crimes where the culprits/criminals actually intended to cause death and received lessor sentences.

I'd like to see the Judge's record on sentences handed out.

This mother will be remorseful for an eternity whereas the real criminals don't sweat it.

GnipGnop
12744
Points
GnipGnop 08/15/13 - 09:01 am
7
0
Well if the juror considered

anything outside of the facts that were presented in the case he did not do his duty. Rumor and innuendo should not be considered when a juror. This should be grounds for an appeal.

Sean Moores
1061
Points
Sean Moores 08/15/13 - 09:15 am
10
3
@ Austin

It's not random. I have warned you about your comments and I remove comments that violate our terms of service.

GiantsAllDay
10498
Points
GiantsAllDay 08/15/13 - 09:17 am
5
1
Austin Rhodes

Austin, please read your comment again and then tell us how in any way, shape or form, you can be the least bit proud to live in this community!
That's the night the lights went out in georgia
That's the night that they hung an innocent man
Don't trust your soul to no back woods southern lawyer
Cause the judge in the town's got bloodstains on his hand

If her lawyer (using the term loosely), Pete T. has any kind of conscience or soul at all, he will refund to her his fee. Also, it looks like Columbia county has a runaway judge on its hands. And the song continues:

The judge said guilty in a make believe trial
Slapped the sheriff on the back with a smile and said
"Suppers waiting at home and I got to get to it"

Hopefully, as this story makes national news and continues to be an embarrassment to Columbia county, the Georgia Supreme Court will remove this judge from the bench. This guy just might give someone 90 days in jail for going 55 in a 45.

Austin Rhodes
2989
Points
Austin Rhodes 08/15/13 - 09:38 am
5
4
DUI --- less safe?

I would say speeding on a dark, unfamiliar road, loading up a car with drunk folks (testified to in court), and blowing through a stop sign is enough to suggest impaired judgement.

I agree the sentence was harsh, but the time she serves will likely be fine...

When it comes to a death involving drinking and driving, it is better to be heavy handed than light.

Little Lamb
49093
Points
Little Lamb 08/15/13 - 09:44 am
6
1
Remorse

I suppose the judge wanted to see her shed a lot of tears and beg him for mercy. Instead she acted reserved and professional. Beware of judges with fetishes.

Riverman1
93737
Points
Riverman1 08/15/13 - 09:59 am
6
1
Austin's Remarks Astounding

Austin said the jurors acted on something besides the evidence. Then he said to justify it a lengthy sentenced can be lessened but a short one can't be lengthened. If those are the circumstances of why she was sentenced to twenty years the appellate court needs to act fast.

Then Austin said, "I would say speeding on a dark, unfamiliar road, loading up a car with drunk folks (testified to in court), and blowing through a stop sign is enough to suggest impaired judgement."

There is no evidence of speeding. All roads are dark at night in the country. We all drive down unfamiliar roads. There is absolutely NO evidence she was impaired. Other people in the car who have been drinking is NOT against the law. All that's left is running a stop sign which I'll bet lots of us have done before by accident.

I ran one about a month ago on the way to Macon on that back road. It's a 4-way stop sign, but I did run it accidentally. Luckily, there weren't other vehicles present.

Austin Rhodes
2989
Points
Austin Rhodes 08/15/13 - 10:02 am
2
3
There was evidence of speeding...

...all of this was covered in the trial. The sentence is within the guidelines, but it will certainly be appealed, most tough sentences are.

Riverman1
93737
Points
Riverman1 08/15/13 - 10:09 am
4
1
She was NOT convicted of speeding

She was NOT convicted of speeding. The sentence is ridiculous. However, a civil penalty of millions would be awarded to the family of the deceased I'm sure.

csralookout
332
Points
csralookout 08/15/13 - 10:17 am
4
1
I'm all for justice, but 20

I'm all for justice, but 20 year prison sentence for an auto accident? And the Judges remarks seem awfully strange. This story does have a lot of holes in it like someone said above.

Red Headed Step Child
4490
Points
Red Headed Step Child 08/15/13 - 10:34 am
2
1
@GAD

asked "What kind of person would want a job lying for a living?"

Politicians came immediately to my mind...

Austin Rhodes
2989
Points
Austin Rhodes 08/15/13 - 10:35 am
3
2
Well there is the note from the juror...

...and more insight will be sought out...so who knows...maybe there are some answers out there.

citizenconcerned
12
Points
citizenconcerned 08/15/13 - 10:46 am
6
1
In her shoes

How can someone asses a person's emotional state, a person's heart, a person's remorse from sitting on a bench hearing statements for two days? I am not sure how I would sound, how I would look, or how I would act if I were in her position... does your face always reflect how you are feeling inside? Has someone ever misread your face? Is that enough to convict someone that harshly?

What was it like in the car that night? How many people have stepped up to drive a group of rowdy drunk people because you knew if they drove it would not end well? How many of you had had a beer or two before that? How many people have had to deal with a car full of crazy people? Were they acting crazy, was she just trying to get them home safely? Maybe when she pulled out onto the road they had seat belts on... did they take them off? Did she have to look back in her rear view mirror to see if they were doing something? We forget how easily it is to become distracted while driving. Add night conditions, add a bad intersection, add the fact that she didn't know where she was... who hasn't been there?

Now you are in a horrific accident. Your sister is nearly cut in half... your out of your mind with shock, horror, it is chaos. They tell you if you take a breathalyzer you cannot ride in the ambulance with your sister to the hospital. What would you do? Who can act in their right mind under those circumstances?

This was not a woman with intent to harm... so how can she get a worse punishment than so many people who do? Any of us could have been in her shoes. I thought we lived in a society where the punishment fit the crime, where we look at the individual case, the individual circumstances. This judge put a caring women in prison for 20 years. A woman who spends her Fridays volunteering at the hospital to help disabled children with art therapy.... is society better off locking her away with hardened criminals? My heart hurts for the victims of this accident, but also for Kris and her family. She didn't deserve this.

Austin Rhodes
2989
Points
Austin Rhodes 08/15/13 - 10:55 am
5
3
Actually...she wasn't taking them home...

...I believe it was discussed in court that they were heading out for Mexican food.

The idea that a jury and a Judge cannot be expected to "get into someone's mind" runs contrary to the issue of "state of mind", which is a constant topic of debate in most criminal trials where the accused is claiming either innocence, or no criminal intent.

I understand the shock of the harsh sentence, but no new ground was broken in this case. The DA pushed extreme negligence, the defense plead "sad accident"...

The jury and the Judge bought the DA's argument.

citizenconcerned
12
Points
citizenconcerned 08/15/13 - 11:14 am
1
0
Valid points...

I am just speaking from the perspective of the everyday person, not an expert. I was reacting to the judge's statement about no remorse because I know the opposite to be true. The harsh sentence is a shock. We are surrounded with stories of "bad people" doing "bad things" and we expect them to have bad consequences. It is a wake-up call and a shock to the system when "good people" have accidents happen and they are treated worse than the "bad people". A definite wake-up call to remember that you are driving a weapon and no matter how good of a person you may be - it won't matter under these circumstances.

Riverman1
93737
Points
Riverman1 08/15/13 - 11:19 am
6
1
Austin, It Was An Accident Not A Criminal Act

A state of mind discussion can be brought up in a criminal act. Did the defendant mean to shoot the gun to murder the person or was the defendant merely target practicing when the victim walked in the way. This bizarre statement from Annis about her not being remorseful is not pertinent. She made a very apologetic statement is the truth.

If you are referring to her state of mind as she ran the stop sign, I find that impossible to determine. Do you believe she intentionally ran that stop sign like the woman going down Riverwatch the wrong way? We all know the answer to that is no.

Like I said above, I ran a stop sign accidentally not long ago. What was my state of mind? I have no idea. I think you've said before you've had lots of speeding tickets. Was your state of mind so bad? It's simply not relevant.

Cameron Poe
1039
Points
Cameron Poe 08/15/13 - 12:19 pm
5
1
So I guess her accident is

So I guess her accident is more criminal since she was taking her intoxicated passengers to get a bite to eat? I don't really see how this is relevant at all.

Also is the max for vehicular homicide not 15 years? The law may have changed and I may be wrong but last I checked it was. So, was there an extra 5 for lack of remorse?

Lastly, if the jurors acted on "outside rumor and innuendo" as previously stated by a local radio personality, well, then I guess a second statement of the judge and jury buying the DA's argument would not be the case. So which is it? Did they buy the DA's argument? Or, did they decide based on "rumor and innuendo"?

Again, I am certainly not saying this woman should not have been charged and sentenced in some way. But with the story being so full of holes and the revelations by one radio personality I think everyone has a right to ask a few questions.

Austin Rhodes
2989
Points
Austin Rhodes 08/15/13 - 12:27 pm
2
2
LOL

Everything that was considered by the jury was discussed in open court...as I was told.

Cameron Poe
1039
Points
Cameron Poe 08/15/13 - 12:29 pm
4
1
This was discussed in open

This was discussed in open court?

"I got an interesting note, a very long note from a juror last night...they seemed to think there was a conspiracy among her friends and contacts to cover up certain facts.

I have no idea if those theories are valid...but that was the opinion of one juror."

Comes off as rumor and innuendo to me.

internationallyunknown
5018
Points
internationallyunknown 08/15/13 - 12:42 pm
2
5
20 years too harsh? How many

20 years too harsh?

How many black men...and women have sung that same song?

Riverman1
93737
Points
Riverman1 08/15/13 - 12:46 pm
6
0
Cameron Poe at 1:29

Cameron Poe at 1:29 was spot on. Let's hope Austin for once asks pertinent questions today and doesn't try to justify Annis and the asinine sentence he handed out.

GnipGnop
12744
Points
GnipGnop 08/15/13 - 12:57 pm
6
1
Way to make

something that had nothing to do with race a racial issue.

internationallyunknown
5018
Points
internationallyunknown 08/15/13 - 01:45 pm
1
5
It was just a friggin

It was just a friggin question....people can't ask questions about race anymore? Clearly, some want others to just shut up and keep it moving.

And CLEARLY the scales of justice are balanced by race....and money.

internationallyunknown
5018
Points
internationallyunknown 08/15/13 - 01:43 pm
0
4
PC? Get real.

How many minority men and women have sung that same song.....better?

Young Fred
21135
Points
Young Fred 08/15/13 - 02:13 pm
3
1
international @1:42 I imagine

international @1:42

I imagine a majority of those (of all races) getting harsh sentences claim it's too harsh.

It would be a difficult thing to actually measure, because you can't rely on raw numbers. It would be a very subjective exercise, how do you define harsh, how do you classify and measure all the varied and sometimes numerous factors and circumstances considered when sentencing?

Regardless, I can state with the utmost confidence, there has been a high number of minority criminals let off with a slap on the hand.

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