Lawrence man sentenced to over 9 years in prison for DUI fatality; mother of victim mourns ‘miracle child’

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Adrian Joel Martinez is pictured during his sentencing hearing in Douglas County District Court on March 22, 2023. Martinez was sentenced to 109 months in prison for involuntary manslaughter and aggravated battery for a DUI crash that killed a 20-year-old man.

Updated at 2:23 p.m. Wednesday, March 22, 2023

A Lawrence man who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for a DUI crash on New Year’s Day in 2022 was sentenced Wednesday to more than nine years in prison.

The man, Adrian Joel Martinez, 39, pleaded guilty on Jan. 31 in Douglas County District Court to felony involuntary manslaughter while driving under the influence and felony aggravated battery while driving under the influence. Martinez was originally charged with second-degree murder and an additional aggravated battery charge, but those charges were dismissed as part of his plea agreement with the state, as the Journal-World reported.

The charges relate to an incident around 12:15 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2022, when Martinez was driving under the influence and was involved in a crash in the 2500 block of West Sixth Street that killed James Henderson Jr., 20, and seriously injured two other people. Martinez’s blood-alcohol level hours after the crash was .261, or more than three times the legal limit, and he was going approximately 20 mph over the posted speed limit, evidence in the case showed.

Judge Amy Hanley sentenced Martinez to 75 months for involuntary manslaughter and an additional 34 months for aggravated battery for a total of 109 months, or just over nine years.

Martinez’s sentencing was continued from a March 9 hearing after his attorney, Branden Smith, filed a motion for a lesser sentence. The motion asked for 86 months, or just over seven years, in prison instead of 109 months but did not seek probation in lieu of a prison term.

At that earlier hearing, one of the aggravated battery victims, Sherry Thomas, who was in the car with Henderson, told the court that she suffered permanent injuries from the crash, as the Journal-World reported.

“I have pain from the moment I wake up until I finally fall asleep at night. I don’t even recognize myself anymore,” Thomas said at the time.

On Wednesday Hanley denied the motion for a lesser sentence, after hearing from Henderson’s parents, Carrie and James Henderson Sr., and other relatives and friends. Hanley also heard from Martinez’s family before she handed down the sentence. She said she had received numerous letters from both sides.

Henderson’s mother, Carrie, said during the hearing that the day her son died she and her husband received a knock on their door that is “every parent’s worst nightmare.” She referred to her son as Jay.

“Jay was our miracle child. He was our entire world,” Carrie said.

She said that she and James Sr. lost a child in 1996 and that they didn’t expect to have Jay. She added that since the crash they have had to move.

“The memories were killing us. Expecting to see Jay walk in the door,” Carrie said.

She said she hoped Martinez would get as much time in prison as possible.

“You handed us a life sentence without our Jay,” Carrie said.

Martinez’s sisters also spoke at the hearing. One sister insisted that Martinez was not an evil man and that he did not set out to hurt anyone. She said that Martinez was a father figure for the children of a friend of his who had committed suicide and for some of his own nephews and nieces and that a long prison sentence would deprive those children.

“I don’t know what he (Henderson) would ask in this instance. Would he ask for leniency? For mercy?” one sister asked.

Martinez then spoke on his own behalf. First he apologized to Henderson’s family, reading from prepared remarks.

“Nothing I have written can express my regret,” Martinez said. “I did not want to take your boy.”

Martinez said that he was significantly injured in the crash and that for months he lay in bed with broken ribs and a broken arm, struggling to breathe, and that as he lay there he often wished that he had died in the crash instead of Henderson and that he had considered taking his own life.

“I wanted to be found unconscious, past the point of no return,” Martinez said.

Martinez has remained sober since the day of the crash, he said. He said he was in a dark place at the time and that a friend of his had died recently and that he had lost his job.

“Instead of asking for help, I drank my pain away,” Martinez said. The experience and subsequent counseling have led him to believe that his “calling” is peer guidance, he said.

“I pray you don’t see me as a monster. My prayers go out to you instead of myself,” he told Henderson’s family.

Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden argued against a lower sentence for Adrian Joel Martinez, whose blood-alcohol level was over three times the legal limit when he killed another man in a drunken driving crash.

Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden objected to the departure motion, emphasizing that Martinez’s actions had forever deprived the Hendersons of their son.

While Hanley denied the motion for a lesser sentence, she told Martinez that he could do something to honor his victim.

“Sentencing is not a comment on who you are. It is a reflection of your actions,” she said.

She said that Martinez wishing for death or considering suicide would be the easy way out and that he should instead consider devoting his life to helping others and raising awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving.

Hanley added that sentences in drunken driving cases were meant to be a deterrent and that the facts of Martinez’s case were clear and his sentence should reflect his choices.

“The defendant (Martinez) was egregiously drunk and driving into oncoming traffic,” Hanley said.

She noted that he almost drove head-on into a police officer’s patrol car only moments before he crashed into Henderson.

“Your actions have consequences,” Hanley said.

After Hanley sentenced Martinez, who had been free on a $50,000 bond, he was taken to the Douglas County Jail.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Adrian Joel Martinez is taken into custody after his sentencing hearing in Douglas County District Court on March 22, 2023. Martinez was sentenced to 109 months in prison for involuntary manslaughter and aggravated battery for a DUI crash that killed a 20-year-old man.


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