Judge rejects plea in reckless homicide case
URBANA — A Champaign County judge Friday dashed a Philo woman's hope of escaping a prison sentence for causing her cousin's death in a drunken driving incident last fall.
In a rarely made judicial move, Champaign County Judge Richard Klaus refused to accept Katheryn Daly's guilty plea to reckless homicide for killing Annie Daly, 19, of Philo, in an all-terrain vehicle accident near the Daly family home south of Philo on Oct. 6.
In the offer that State's Attorney Julia Rietz and Champaign attorney Mark Lipton presented to Klaus, Daly, 24, would have been sentenced to 30 months of probation, six months of electronic home detention, and a $1,000 fine. In exchange for the plea, two more serious counts of aggravated driving under the influence would have been dismissed.
Asked if Annie Daly's parents endorsed that resolution for their niece, Rietz said, "The proposed resolution was made in part based on my conversations with Annie's parents."
The penalties for aggravated driving under the influence range from probation to three to 14 years in prison. It was the language of the statute governing the sentence for that Class 2 felony which was obviously eating at Klaus.
"You cannot ignore the public policy embedded in the statute for which she is charged in count one (aggravated DUI)," Klaus told the attorneys Friday.
"Public policy and the law that's embedded in the statute indicates that unless the court determines that extraordinary circumstances exist that require probation, the defendant shall be sentenced to serve a period of incarceration in the Illinois Department of Corrections between three and 14 years. The court does not concur with this sentence," he said.
Klaus then set the case for trial for March 31, sending the attorneys to renegotiate a deal with a harsher sentence or prepare for trial and the bewildered Daly into the arms of her weeping family, who had been watching from the gallery.
The courtroom drama actually started Thursday afternoon when Lipton and Rietz told the judge they had reached a plea agreement but wanted another date to present it to him.
A clearly agitated Klaus said Thursday he would only accept a plea to an open sentence — meaning he would sentence Daly at a later date — or set the case for trial that day.
"I expect the parties to be ready," Klaus said, reminding Lipton that he had told him at the last two monthly pretrial conferences in February and January that the case had to be resolved Thursday or set for trial.
"It's six months old. I gave you fair warning," Klaus told Lipton, who tried unsuccessfully to explain his position.
Moments later, Rietz told the judge that Annie Daly's family wanted to be able to read a victim impact statement at the time of the plea but weren't prepared to do it on Thursday because they hadn't written anything out.
Klaus then suggested that they could make an oral statement but Rietz reiterated they were not prepared.
Klaus then continued the case until 9 a.m. Friday.
After the Thursday hearing, Lipton sent the judge a packet about an inch thick. It had 128 reference letters from family, friends and professional colleagues of the Carle emergency room nurse, pleading for leniency for the single mother of a 20-month-old son.
But on Friday, Klaus told the attorneys he hadn't read them because they were labeled as mitigation and the "law does not allow for mitigation documents or a victim impact statement for a plea" but only at sentencing after a conviction has been entered.
"This is not a sentencing in any way, shape or form," he said prior to the attorneys presenting the reckless homicide offer.
Rietz had added the reckless homicide count after Thursday's hearing. It alleged Daly acted in a "reckless manner" by performing an act "likely to cause death or great bodily harm." A sentence for reckless homicide does not require the judge to find “extraordinary circumstances” exist for a sentence of probation.
Laying out the facts for Klaus, she said that on Oct. 6 about 3 a.m., Katheryn Daly was driving a John Deere Gator around the perimeter of the family's property with her cousin in the front seat and three people in the back. They had been at a bonfire and were headed home when she turned from County Road 1700 E on to 600 N and skidded over wet gravel.
The Gator tipped over and Annie Daly fell out. None of the occupants was wearing a seatbelt. Katheryn Daley did CPR on her cousin until emergency responders arrived and took her to Carle Foundation Hospital, where she died at 6:24 a.m.
Katheryn Daly admitted that she had been drinking alcohol prior to the accident, Rietz said.
Although Rietz didn't state it Friday, at an earlier court hearing it was revealed that Daly's blood alcohol content was 0.13 percent, well over the 0.08 percent for a motorist to be presumed intoxicated under Illinois law. Katheryn Daly is a petite woman weighing 96 pounds.
Although it does happen from time to time, judges rarely reject guilty plea agreements. When they do, some choose to transfer the case to another judge. Klaus did not do that.