AMITE — Dena Lopez fought back tears as she told the young man she holds responsible for her daughter’s death that she does not want his life to be destroyed by it.
“It’s very hard to define the importance of a man’s life,” Lopez said. “We do not want your life to be defined by this. We don’t want Meghan’s life to be remembered like this.”
Meghan Lopez died on April 3, 2013, the day after she ingested a synthetic hallucinogen given to her by college classmate Cody Watts during an Easter-break picnic. She was 21.
“The 21 most rewarding years of my life, gone. Now, there’s just silence,” Dena Lopez told the court Wednesday, before Watts pleaded no contest to negligent homicide for his role in the Slidell native’s death.
Watts, 24, of Hammond, had been facing a possible life sentence after a Tangipahoa Parish grand jury indicted him on a count of second-degree murder in November 2013. But after Wednesday’s plea, he was sentenced instead to five years’ imprisonment, suspended, and five years’ supervised probation.
Watts also must perform 100 hours of community service, including speaking at an upcoming drug court graduation ceremony, Judge Bruce Bennett, of the 21st Judicial District Court, ordered.
“Every year, we lose people to drugs, and they need to hear this story,” Bennett said, encouraging Watts to earn his service hours in a more meaningful way than picking up trash.
The community service requirement was added to his sentence at Dena Lopez’s request. She and Meghan’s father, Michael Lopez, said they wanted Watts to use his experience to help other people.
“We wanted you to take this plea offer because we don’t want this to destroy your life,” Michael Lopez said. “I hope you use this opportunity. … Try to make others’ lives better, be a positive influence, and do it in Meghan’s memory.”
Dena Lopez also asked that Watts be allowed to contact her, if he wants, so she can find out more about the circumstances that led to the death of her only child. The Lopezes have had little or no contact with Watts since Meghan Lopez died, and 27 months later, there are still unanswered questions.
Watts said he definitely will take her up on the offer.
“I’ve been scared to talk to you because murder is a scary accusation,” Watts said after his plea. “I’m sorry we haven’t had a chance to talk. ... I’m anxious for closure, both legally and emotionally, and if possible, to create some healing.”
Dena Lopez said Watts isn’t the only one she holds responsible for her daughter’s death. She also blames the manufacturers and dealers of synthetic drugs like N-Bomb — the LSD-like drug that prosecutors said Watts had given Meghan Lopez — as well as Meghan herself, for choosing to try the drug in the first place.
In her victim’s impact statement, Dena Lopez also took aim at Watts’ defense attorney, state Rep. Sherman Mack.
She said state legislators had contacted her after Meghan’s death to ask if they could point to her as “the poster child” for a law change designed to close loopholes in the state’s criminal statutes banning synthetic marijuana and similar drugs. The legislation added new chemical compounds to an ever-growing list of substances sold throughout the state under street names like “K2” and “Spice” and “C-Boom.”
Mack helped sponsor the legislation, Dena Lopez said, and then he agreed to represent a man who had contributed to her daughter’s death by giving her one of those very drugs.
“I just felt like he had jumped the fence to help the opposite side,” Dena Lopez said.
Mack said after Wednesday’s hearing that the legislation, which he sponsored on behalf of the Louisiana State Police, is aimed at shutting down the manufacturers of those drugs.
“I agreed to represent him (Watts) because I don’t believe he’s guilty of murder,” Mack said. “This is a very tragic case, and I think it came to a good resolution.”
Dena Lopez told Watts she thought his actions were “not deliberate but certainly negligent.”
“Your $10 purchase has devastated so many lives,” she said. “It’s irreversible. It’s permanent. And it’s sad.”
Michael Lopez said he will wonder, until the day he dies, about the accomplishments his daughter could have achieved.
“All those dreams were crushed because she trusted her friend,” he said.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen , and call her at (225) 336-6981.