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Archive for Saturday, October 2, 2004

Prison term halved in DUI fatality

Discrepancy in state law causes resentencing in Miami County case

October 2, 2004

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— A judge has slashed the sentence for a man who killed a suburban Kansas City couple in a drunken driving crash because of a flaw in the wording of a state law.

Thursday's decision cuts the sentence for Robert C. Holmes, of Mound City, from 18 years to nine years.

At least five other people have been resentenced since the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in January on the case of Scott Manbeck, who was convicted of killing a Harvey County woman in a July 2001 drunken driving crash.

Manbeck's lawyer, James Pratt, noticed a discrepancy in state law concerning punishment for driving under the influence between the words "and" and "or."

Although Manbeck was charged with and pleaded guilty to being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he was sentenced under a 1996 law for being under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

The sentencing law converted Manbeck's four previous DUI convictions from misdemeanors to felonies, resulting in a sentence of about 13 years. Had the convictions counted only as misdemeanors, Manbeck would have received a sentence of just less than four years.

The Supreme Court agreed with the defense and found "the use of the conjunctive 'and' cannot be ignored ... We assume the Legislature meant what it passed. If it did not, it is the Legislature's prerogative to change the statute."

Legislators later changed the law, but the change didn't apply to people who already had been sentenced.

Holmes was driving under the influence with a revoked license in January 2002 when his vehicle crossed the center line of U.S. Highway 69 in Miami County and struck the vehicle of a Mission Hills couple. Wallace P. and Marie McKee, both 73, were on their way home from a family gathering when they were killed.

Members of the couple's family were in the courtroom Thursday as Senior District Judge Robert Jones ordered a nine-year sentence and a fine of $200,000 for Holmes.

Karen Smart, Kansas advocate for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said she had helped five other families of victims caught in the same situation.

"It's very tough for all of them," she said.

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