The husband of a woman killed by a drunken driver forgave the accused in court Wednesday when she admitted causing what he described as "an inexcusable act of disregard for a beautiful human life."
The unusual act of absolvement by Bill LaPierre of Haverhill, Mass., stunned the courtroom and moved the defendant, Lisa Leavitt, also of Haverhill, to break down sobbing.
Leavitt, 37, pleaded guilty to the motor vehicle homicide death of Karen LaPierre, 63, at 5:20 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 18, caused when Leavitt's out-of-control car slammed into the rear of the LaPierres' parked truck as the couple was loading doughnuts to be served at the after-Mass receptions at Scared Hearts Catholic Church later that morning.
Mrs. LaPierre was pinned between the two vehicles and died at the scene. Police said Leavitt had a blood alchohol level of .18, twice the Massachusetts legal limit.
Bill LaPierre, sitting next to the prosecutor in the courtroom, rose to address the court after Leavitt pleaded guilty to causing his wife's death.
"My life will never be the same, my loneliness is a daily sentence for me," he said. "When Karen died, I lost my best friend, my lover, my primary confidant. I also feel I have lost part of myself."
Yet, he added, "I forgive you for what you have done to my family and me, and hope you get the help you need to become a better person."
Leavitt did not respond, but she sobbed while holding her hand to her face as LaPierre spoke. She was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison plus five years probation. Her driver's license was suspended for 15 years.
"This is one of those cases where you wonder what kind of penalty fits the crime," Judge Michael Uhlarik said. "Hopefully, this sentence will further help Miss Leavitt understand the immense tragedy this has caused."
Afterwards, Leavitt's attorney, Gerard LaFlamme, said that in 31 years of practicing law, he had never had a client tell him not to try to explore a plea bargain or another defense plan.
"She made it clear that she wanted to take responsibility for her actions," said LaFlamme. "She did not want to put the LaPierre family through anything more."
The LaPierres were longtime volunteers at their parish church, and regularly picked up doughnuts at Heav'nly Donuts on Main Street in Haverhill for Sunday Mass receptions. The husband watched in horror as Leavitt's car struck and pinned his wife against the couple's vehicle.
LaFlamme said his client wasn't a churchgoer prior to the tragedy, but has turned to religion for comfort while confined to jail for four months, awaiting disposition of her case.
"When she gets out," he said, "she will be a better person."
Details for this story were provided by The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.