A drunk driver from Licking convicted of killing two children in a head-on car accident near his hometown two years ago may spend as few as 120 days in prison, under a decision handed down by a Maries County associate circuit judge.
The sentence received by Justin D. Bradshaw, 26, has outraged the family of the two children, ages 8 and 15, and advocates on behalf of drunk driving victims. Four others were injured in the December 2006 accident.
Maries County Associate Circuit Judge John Clayton, hearing the case on a change of venue from Texas County, accepted an August guilty plea related to the deaths of Ryan M. Jones, 15, who died shortly after he was freed from the wreckage, and Amanda Strom, 8, who died the following day in a Springfield hospital. Four others were injured in the crash and each brought an assault charge by Texas County Prosecutor Michael Anderson against Bradshaw.
Clayton handed down his decision Oct. 16 that resulted in two, 10-year sentences on the involuntary manslaughter counts and six years on each of the assault charges. Under the determination, Bradshaw would spend 10 years in prison because the sentences were to run concurrently. That’s four more than a probation and parole report recommended.
Anderson argued earlier two, 10-year terms on the manslaughter counts (20 years total) were appropriate. However, the judge also retained jurisdiction over the case for 120 days under a state statute. Family members who gathered in a Phelps County Circuit Court to hear the sentence were pleased with the finality of the judge’s decision until learning that the state statute cited could release Bradshaw after four months in the Missouri Department of Corrections.
“We feel like justice has slapped us in the face,” said Cindy Halluin of Beckemeyer, Ill., the aunt of the two fatally injured children.
Halluin, who is a sister to Ryan Jones’ mother, said the family walked away from the sentencing not totally aware of the meaning of the statute allowing the judge to visit the case again after 120 days. Later, in a meeting with Anderson in the courthouse, they learned the implications of the law.
“Judge Clayton had a duty to uphold and that was to consider punishment for the crime of a repeat offender who ending up killing two children. I believe he allowed his personal opinion of the anger still held by the victims cloud or rule over his judgment,” said Halluin.
Victims of the crime spoke Oct. 9 during a hearing before Clayton. Admittedly, Halluin says some of those speaking may have crossed the line in the eyes of the judge. Anderson doesn’t see it that way.
“I mean really, why wouldn’t we still be angered over a repeat offender who was let go so many times before, and then ended up killing two kids because his license wasn’t revoked long enough the first time or something more drastic wasn’t done with his first DWI to maybe affect him enough to drink and drive again,” Halluin said.
Records show that he entered a guilty plea in 2004 to a DWI case in Shannon County and was ordered to pay a $300 fine. Later, he failed to appear for a court hearing related to not paying the fine and a warrant was issued for his arrest and later recalled in March 2005, according to court documents.
According to a Missouri State Highway Patrol reconstruction report, Bradshaw was the driver of southbound vehicle that crossed a centerline and struck a car driven by Matthew M. Strom, 34, of Edgar Springs, head-on. Strom and three other children – Licking residents Blythe and LaShae Brotherton, both 11 at the time and siblings to Ryan Jones, and his son, Matthew Jr., 7, were seriously injured in the crash. The Brotherton children and Ryan Jones have the same mother.
Still hospitalized in February with a broken hip and pelvis, Bradshaw told troopers at his hospital bed that he didn’t remember the accident, but recalled leaving an Edgar Springs home before the crash, according to a report. A lab report taken six hours after the crash showed Bradshaw had a blood-alcohol of .123 percent, which is nearly twice the legal limit.
By the following May, Bradshaw was ordered to trial on the six felony counts. In August 2008, after a series of delays and a change of venue to Phelps County, Bradshaw entered the guilty pleas to six felonies. Two months later, he received his punishment, which has drawn the attention of Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s southwest Missouri region.
MADD staff victim advocate Laura Askew in Springfield, who covers 18 Missouri counties attended the Rolla sentencing.
“I honestly believed that a strict sentence could offer the family some small portion of closure and sense of security knowing that their offender would be incarcerated soon,” she wrote in an Oct. 21 letter to Clayton, whose office is in Vienna. Clayton did not respond to a written request from the Herald for comment.
Askew, a native of Howell County, said she was flabbergasted with the judge’s decision in the Phelps County courtroom. “It was quite a shock,” she said. In her four years in the post, she has only seen one similar outcome.
Askew ended the letter to the judge with a question: “My question to you, honorable Judge Clayton is, how much longer will our courts allow those who are guilty of vehicular homicide/manslaughter/assault to hide behind hollow words and minimal sentences.”