Saturday, July 24, 2004

Driver's sentence set aside on appeal

Paraplegic hit teen at Bengals game

By Sharon Coolidge
Enquirer staff writer

A state appeals court Friday overturned a 20-year prison term for a paraplegic who drove a car without handicap controls through a red light and killed a teenager on his way to a Bengals game in 2001.

The 1st District Court of Appeals said Judge Robert Taylor of Hamilton County Common Pleas Court was wrong to suggest less prison time to Darrin Staffordif he took a plea bargain.

During the March 2003 trial on charges of aggravated vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault, Taylor suggested Stafford consider a plea bargain to lesser charges.

If that happened, Taylor said he would likely sentence him to spend 11 years in prison. But if Stafford was found guilty at trial, Taylor said he'd be inclined to impose the entire 23 years in prison.

"We must vacate the sentence and remand for re-sentencing because the trial court improperly impinged on Stafford's right to a jury trial," wrote Appeals Judge Mark Painter. "The right to a jury trial is a fundament of American law. We will not permit a trial court to threaten a defendant with a harsher sentence if he exercises a fundamental right."

Judges Ralph Winkler and Lee H. Hildebrant Jr. concurred.

Stafford will be re-sentenced by a different judge because Taylor has since left the bench.

A jury found Stafford, 32, of Evansville, Ind., guilty of aggravated vehicular homicide for killing 15-year-old Scott Asbrock, of Mason. Stafford also was convicted on three counts of vehicular assault for injuring Stewart Williams, 23, of Middletown; Kyle Fields, 19, of Madeira; and Cincinnati Police Officer Jon Harris.



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