Judge gives DUI driver convicted of murder 10 years in prison; relatives of man killed in crash remember him as ‘ray of sunshine’

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal World

Anthony M. Royal is pictured during a plea hearing on Aug. 22, 2023, in Douglas County District Court. Royal pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder for a DUI crash that killed 70-year-old John Thomas Kirby on April 8, 2022.

The family of a man who was killed in a DUI crash shared their grief Wednesday in Douglas County District Court at the sentencing for the driver who was convicted of his murder.

Anthony Michael Royal, 56, of Lawrence, pleaded guilty in August to one felony count of murder in the second degree and one felony count of DUI for his third or more conviction, as the Journal-World reported.

The charges relate to a crash on the evening of April 8, 2022, when Royal attempted to exit Kansas Highway 10 at the Bob Billings Parkway ramp in a 2017 Dodge Ram, failed to stop at the stop sign and crashed into another vehicle. John Thomas Kirby, 70, of Lawrence, died as a result of the crash, the Journal-World reported.

Royal had pleaded guilty to the murder charge as part of an agreement with the state in which he would be sentenced to 102 months, or 8.5 years, in prison, but Judge Amy Hanley deviated from that agreement and sentenced Royal to 123 months, just over 10 years.

Before Hanley read her decision, three of Kirby’s granddaughters spoke in support of a longer sentence.

photo by: Chris Conde/ Journal-World

Members of Jon Kirby’s family pose for a picture on Nov. 1, 2023, in Douglas County District Court.

Samantha Torres said that Kirby was “the most amazing person” she had ever known and that his death had left a hole in her heart.

“He was a ray of sunshine that would light up a whole room with his laughter. Now these rooms are silent,” Torres said.

Torres said that she rushed to the hospital after she was told of the accident. She said she saw Kirby’s injuries and continues to have nightmares from the experience. Though she didn’t see the accident or read any police reports, in her mind she is often transported to the scene.

“This memory is burned into my brain,” Torres said.

She said Kirby was one of her biggest fans who supported her at every turn, and she always knew that Kirby was proud of her. But because of the fatal crash, he was unable to see her graduate from college and will never see her get married.

She said that Royal deserved to be “locked away forever” after driving drunk multiple times and now killing someone.

“People like my grandpa are constantly being taken from the world. Forgiveness will never be given,” Torres said.

Kirby’s granddaughter Alex Mische said that Kirby was a “warm, caring individual who would give you the shirt off of his back” and she lamented that younger members of the family would never get to know him.

Mische said that the health of Kirby’s widow, Carolyn Kirby, 76, began to decline after her husband’s death, and she too died in July of this year.

Mische said that she was celebrating her oldest child’s birthday when she was given the news that Kirby had been in a crash.

“Make this man serve the maximum sentence possible,” she told the judge.

A third granddaughter, Sara Hegeman, said that Kirby was more than just a grandpa and that he served as a father figure to her and her siblings and cousins.

“His laugh was contagious,” Hegeman said.

photo by: Contributed

Photos of John Kirby provided by his family.

She said that the love between her grandparents was the greatest example of love between two people she had ever witnessed.

“My grandmother died with a broken heart,” Hegeman said.

Hegeman told the court that she has worked in corrections in the past and that she has seen people sentenced to more time than Royal was facing for less severe crimes.

“It is incomprehensible to me that he will not get life (in prison),” she said.

Hanley asked how the state, represented by Chief Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Tatum, and Royal’s attorney, Dakota Loomis, reached their agreement for 102 months since Kansas sentencing guidelines require a minimum of 152 months, 12.6 years, in prison for someone with Royal’s criminal history.

Tatum said it was a compromise between the murder charge and an involuntary manslaughter charge that was charged as an alternative. She said that Royal could have been convicted of the lesser charge if he had gone to trial and that if convicted he would have been sentenced to as little as 52 months, just over four years.

Royal was in a wheelchair during the sentencing. He has appeared at past hearings with a walker but said he recently had ankle surgery and has spent the last two months in medical isolation at the jail. While in isolation he said he has contemplated every day that he should have driven home a different way or stopped drinking at the bar.

“With the deepest of sympathy, I apologize for taking Mr. Kirby from you,” Royal said, addressing Kirby’s family and the court.

He said he was a member of the Kickapoo Tribe and has spent many years as a foreman in a construction job and in public service as a volunteer firefighter and officer for his tribe.

“I now add convicted murderer to that,” Royal said.

Royal said he has long struggled with alcoholism and that he had four vodka tonics the day of the crash and that he was grieving at the time a friend who died in 2019. He said his time in jail last year is the longest he has been sober in over 40 years.

Royal said that his wife died a few years ago, but when she died she was in hospice care surrounded by loved ones.

“I took that away from Mr. Kirby,” Royal said.

Loomis said that Royal has taken responsibility for the crash by entering a guilty plea to murder. Loomis added that while Royal didn’t stop at the stop sign that day, Royal believed he tried and that his brakes may have failed. Loomis presented the court with a receipt from an area mechanic who worked on Royal’s truck the day before the accident. He said that Royal had had his tires replaced and that there may have been a mechanical failure, but since Royal’s truck was destroyed by fire immediately after the crash there was no way to know for sure.

Hanley said that she appreciated the work the state and the defense put into the agreement and that she understood how they got to the 102-month sentence but that she wanted to find a compromise of her own: 123 months.

She said that DUI cases come before her often and they can be the most difficult to deal with since alcohol abuse can hurt so many lives. She thanked Kirby’s granddaughters for having the courage to speak despite their grief.

Hanley said that she appreciated that Royal has taken responsibility but that when looking at similar cases, other defendants had received more prison time and she wanted to be consistent. She said that 123 months represented the maximum sentence that a person with no criminal history could receive under the guidelines. She also sentenced him to 12 months for the DUI charge to run concurrently.

“There is no number I can impose that will undo the damage done to Mr. Kirby’s family. That is maybe the most difficult part of my job,” Hanley said.

She then ordered Royal to register as a violent offender for 15 years after he is released from prison and said that he would receive 380 days, just over one year, of time served against his sentence. Royal has been in custody since his arrest in October 2022.


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.