CLINTON — Saying Brett Gerald knowingly created the risk of death and injury by drinking and driving, a state district judge sentenced the former Greenburg resident Tuesday to seven consecutive 10-year prison terms for killing seven people in a May 30 head-on collision in East Feliciana Parish.
Gerald, who pleaded guilty to seven vehicular homicide counts in December, also was fined $14,000.
Before 20th Judicial District Judge William G. Carmichael pronounced the sentences, Gerald, 30, struggling through tears, told the victims’ family members he was deeply sorry for their losses and that his thoughts and prayers go out to them.
Gerald called each out victim’s name during the statement and said he is regretful and sorry for the outcome “of my thoughtlessness and intoxication.”
“I trust in God that he will heal your pain because I know I cannot,” Gerald told the families, adding that he will be an advocate to prevent others from “drinking and driving in the future.”
Carmichael said Gerald’s conduct “caused the deaths of seven human beings and the devastation of several families, including your own.”
Carmichael sentenced Gerald to serve 10 years on each of the seven counts and ruled that five years of each 10-year sentence, or 35 years, would be served without the possibility of probation or parole.
Gerald, however, is eligible to earn “good time” toward each day of the 70-year sentence, said Tommy Damico, his attorney.
Parole and “good time” are two separate avenues for an inmate to gain early release. When an inmate applies for parole, he appears before a state parole board and asks to be released early. The parole board either approves or denies the request.
The other avenue for early release is to earn good time from the state Department of Public Safety and Correction. Under a law passed last year, the prison terms given for nonviolent and nonsex-related offenses may be reduced for good behavior at the rate of 1.5 days for every day an offender serves in prison, Corrections Department spokeswoman Pam Laborde said.
Damico said he believes his client will be eligible for a good-time release in about 23 years.
Laborde said she cannot comment on specific sentences.
Gerald’s pickup collided with a car occupied by seven Baton Rouge residents returning home from Clinton church services.
Five people in the 1996 Mercury Grand Marquis driving on La. 67 about a mile south of the Comite River died instantly in the collision with Gerald’s 2007 Dodge pickup: the driver, Brenda Gaines, 64; Denise Gaines, 33; Diamond Johnson, 12; Jyran Johnson, 6; and Angela Matthews Mosely, 36.
Two other passengers, Willie Gaines Jr., 15, and Rogerick Johnson Jr., 13, also of Baton Rouge, died several days later.
All but Mosely were members of the same extended family.
As a result of the pleas, Gerald faced five- to 30-year prison sentences on each count and possible fines ranging from $2,000 to $15,000 per count.
A state trooper who investigated the crash testified earlier that an analysis of a blood sample taken at Lane Regional Medical Center showed Gerald’s blood-alcohol content was 0.15 percent.
In Louisiana, a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent is considered presumptive evidence of drunken driving. Gerald had three other DWI arrests before the crash and one conviction.
Seven people related to the victims gave emotional statements during the sentencing hearing.
“I don’t want you to think in no way that I hate you. I don’t. I will keep you in my prayers,” Otis J. Mosely, Angela Mosely’s husband, told Gerald.
The Rev. John Gaines Sr., who lost his wife, daughter and two grandchildren, said, “God has kept us with sane minds” despite the loss to his family.
“All I want people to know is that he (Gerald) is forgiven,” Gaines said.
“I want Brett Gerald to know we are a loving family,” John Gaines Jr. said. “We do forgive you, but justice must be served.”
John Gaines Jr. said later his family will become involved in efforts to strengthen the state’s drunken driving laws.
“We have forgiven you, brother,” added Ray C. Gilbert, speaking for his nephew, Roderick Johnson Sr.
Alvin Matthews, brother of Angela Mosely, said his sister would want him to forgive Gerald.
“However, I find it very difficult to do so. Your unremorseful face has been forever engraved in my mind,” Matthews said, adding later he is satisfied with the sentence.
Addressing complaints that Gerald did not express his regrets earlier, Damico said Gerald did so on his advice.
“That was me. Don’t blame him,” Damico said.
Following the hearing, members of Gerald’s family met briefly outside the courthouse with the Gaines family to express their condolences.