URBANA — In spite of impassioned pleas from the victim's family and scores of supporters for the defendant, a Champaign County judge Friday sentenced a Philo woman to prison for causing the death of her cousin in a drunken driving incident last fall.
At the conclusion of an emotionally charged 90-minute hearing held in a courtroom packed with about 60 spectators, Judge Richard Klaus sentenced Katheryn "Katie" Daly, 24, to 3 1/2 years in prison for the reckless homicide of Annie Daly, 19, also of Philo.
"The loss to society is the same whether Annie was killed by a family member or a total stranger. This is absolutely a deterrable crime and it must be deterred. It is the duty of the court to see that it is deterred. If anything positive can come from this crime, let it be this. Let this be the clarion message: If you make the choice to drink and drive and you kill someone, regardless of your station in life, you will face the consequences of your actions in this court," said Klaus, who estimated he's sentenced 15 to 20 people in cases involving death or great bodily harm in his nine years on the bench.
Annie Daly died on Oct. 6, a few hours after the all-terrain Gator that Katie Daly was driving on the family farm in rural Philo tipped over, dumping Annie Daly out, causing her fatal internal injuries.
Katie Daly admitted she had been drinking alcohol prior to the accident. Her blood alcohol level was 0.13 percent, more than the 0.08 percent required for an Illinois motorist to be presumed intoxicated.
Klaus refused a request by defense attorney Mark Lipton of Champaign to recommend Daly for the Department of Corrections' boot camp program — a recommendation that State's Attorney Julia Rietz was willing to endorse.
Daly is eligible for day-for-day good time, meaning she could be released from prison in 21 months. Klaus could have sentenced her to up to 5 years.
Sobbing family members and friends spilled into the hallway outside Klaus' courtroom following the hearing, hugging Sue and Bowie Daly, the parents of Annie Daly, and comforting Julia and Pat Daly, the parents of the incarcerated daughter.
Father Bo Schmitt, pastor at St. Thomas Catholic Church in Philo, led the stunned crowd in a brief prayer.
Both Rietz and Lipton made moving arguments for probation for Daly, described by the nine people who testified in her behalf and many others who submitted letters as loving, kind, compassionate and smart.
Among those testifying Friday were Carle orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert Bane; his physician assistant, Casey Shroyer; Parkland College nursing instructor Carmen Zych; two of Daly's fellow Carle nurses; one of Daly's former patients at Carle; family friend John Khachaturian; and Daly's counselor, Gina Johnson.
Julia Daly testified that her family is very close to Sue and Bowie Daly's family. She said all of them started Friday at St. Thomas Church, where the Mass intention was offered for both families.
"Then, after that, we went to the cemetery to visit Annie. Katie was with us," she said.
Julia Daly said her daughter's imprisonment would be "devastating" to her brother-in-law and his wife, who said they considered their niece to be another daughter.
"It would be doubly hard for them to lose another child," Julia Daly said, wiping back tears.
Several witnesses referred to the tight bond between the two families, who also live near each other.
On the day of Annie's death, several family members had been at a bonfire for a family birthday celebration on the family property. Katie and Annie Daly were in the front seat of the Gator and three others were in the back, headed for home about 3 a.m.. None of them wore a seat belt as Katie Daly skidded on wet gravel turning from County Road 1700 E on to 600 N. The Gator tipped over and Annie Daly fell out. Katie Daly performed CPR on her, reviving her until she could be taken by ambulance to Carle. She died there almost four hours later.
Reading a statement to Klaus, Leo Daly, the brother of Annie Daly, said his cousin Katie is more like a sister to him and his sisters.
"We have never once blamed Katie for this accident nor will we ever be mad at her. Taking Katie away from us, her family, and her son would be heartbreaking. We have lost one sibling and couldn't stand to lose another," he said, speaking on behalf of Devin and Janna Daly, who sat near him as he read.
His parents, Sue and Bowie Daly, followed him with a statement that Sue Daly read, begging Klaus to show mercy to their niece.
"Annie shared her love for family unconditionally. We know that Annie was given a wonderful loving and forgiving spirit for a reason. She would never want an accident to tear apart her family," Sue Daly said as her husband sat next to her, their arms touching. "We need to have Katie here to help us heal. She will live with this accident for the rest of her life and the guilt she carries is punishment enough."
Klaus made little eye contact with the Dalys or the attorneys as the hearing progressed.
After arguments for probation by Rietz and Lipton in which they noted Daly's spotless record and contributions to the community through her work as a nurse and a volunteer, Klaus gave Daly her chance to be heard.
In a broken voice, Daly, the mother of a 20-month-old son, told the judge family is the most important thing in her life.
"I would never intentionally hurt anyone, especially Annie Sue. If I could, I would take her place in a heartbeat because I am permanently heart-broken," she said.
Daly, who has already attended a victim impact panel, done public service, and undergone counseling, said she hoped, as part of a community-based sentence, to educate high school students that alcohol and driving in any kind of vehicle are not acceptable in any circumstance.
In March, Lipton and Rietz had tried to present Klaus with a negotiated plea to reckless homicide for a sentence of probation but Klaus rejected the deal.
The attorneys came back later in March with the plea to the same charge, agreeing to let Klaus impose the sentence. They hoped that once the judge heard the evidence in mitigation and read the letters of support for Daly, that he would consider probation.