In an emotional proceeding, Ninth Judicial District Judge Ted Hartley denied Deanna Willis’ request to have her sentence of four years in prison reduced on Tuesday.
Willis was forgiven by her victim’s husband, Don Hoover, but the court could not be as lenient. Assistant District Attorney Donna Mowher said the court did not have jurisdiction in the case to reduce the sentence.
“The court shall return a motion within 90 days of conviction by law,” Mowher said during her statement to judge Hartley. “The state’s position is that the court doesn’t have jurisdiction and we feel the judge gave the appropriate sentence.”
Six years is the maximum sentence Willis could have received.
Hartley sentenced Willis to serve four years in prison on Aug. 15. Willis was convicted in June of vehicular homicide in a head-on collision north of Portales on U.S. Highway 70, which killed Deborah Hoover, 40, a mother of two.
Doug Jones Witt, attorney for Willis, said Willis has been participating in literacy and substance abuse programs in order to reduce her sentence. He also said Willis has four children and since she has been in prison the children were left in the care of Willis’ mother, Virginia Barton. Witt said Barton is now suffering from breast cancer and it has hindered her ability to take care of the four children.
“They (judicial system) gave her a gift, only sentencing her to four years instead of six years,” Mowher said. “She (Willis) should have took her children into account before she got into the car.”
Hartley denied the request, even if the court would have had jurisdiction. Don Hoover, Deborah’s husband, was given an opportunity to speak to Willis.
“I forgive you,” Hoover said as he stood in the court room and looked Willis in the eyes. “The lord tells us not to hold a grudge.”
Willis responded by breaking down in tears and after the hearing both judge Hartley and Hoover approached Willis to give her a hug.
“I remember at the time of sentencing, I was concerned that your heart would be hardened,” Hartley told Hoover. “That (sentencing Willis to serve four years) was one of the toughest decisions as a judge, that I’ve had to make. I believe we have to impose the sentence.”
Hartley said if Willis continued to do well while she was in prison and continued to receive good reports, she could be out in two years for good behavior. Hartley used one of his own personal experiences to speak to Hoover.
“I’ve lost my wife since then to cancer,” Hartley said, at taking off his glasses to wipe away the tears. “We’ve both lost our wives. I cared for both sides.”
Hartley’s wife, Mary Carol, died of cancer last year.
Hoover said stricter laws in New Mexico should be in place to deter people from driving drunk. He said Florida had one of the worst rates of DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) and it hurt their tourist economy. He said the same could happen to New Mexico.
“Our governor has put the drunk driving problem at the top of his agenda,” Hoover said. “He said he would do something about drunk driving and he has. He keeps his word.”
Hoover said the solution to the drunk-driving effort must start with the people of New Mexico.
“We as New Mexicans have to change our mentality,” Hoover said. “We have to say, ‘No we can’t do this (drive drunk).’
“We have to become more responsible. People won’t come to New Mexico if our roads aren’t safe.”