After hearing an apology from the defendant and emotional testimony from the victim's out-of-state family, an Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judge on Wednesday delayed sentencing a hit-and-run driver who recently pleaded guilty to killing a cyclist in the Marigny neighborhood three summers ago.
Judge Ben Willard said he expects to give Curtis Turner, 48, his punishment on Sept. 28.
Turner pleaded guilty Monday to manslaughter in the death of 37-year-old Ben Gregory. Willard can give the defendant as many as 40 years in prison, and as little as no prison time at all.
Gregory's family, packing two rows in Willard's courtroom, appeared stunned by the delay. But the judge said it was necessary for him to fully consider statements from them and Turner, as well as other unspecified information.
Willard said no words could convey how heartbroken he was for Gregory's family and told them, "God bless," as he walked briskly into his chambers.
The recess capped off a session in which Gregory's parents, brother, sister and longtime girlfriend described their devastation over the case, often through tears.
His girlfriend, Margaret Meinzer, said she wished she could sentence Turner to be "with me in my thoughts as I sift through what might've been and all I should've said or done" after the couple moved to New Orleans from Pittsburgh several years ago.
"I want you to cry my tears with me. I want you to dream of him when I dream of him and hear the horrible quiet when I wake up and he’s not there," said Meinzer, whose relationship with Gregory lasted 15 years. She said Gregory's death drove her away from New Orleans, and she hopes to stop having to return to the city.
Meanwhile, Gregory's siblings — Samuel and Savannah — and parents, Dan and Patricia, said they believed he would have stopped to help Turner after the crash if the roles had been reversed.
"We would've stopped even if it was a dog," Dan Gregory said. "Take this moment to change your life and be a better man after this, because that would've been the outcome Ben would've wanted."
Wearing shackles and an orange jail jumpsuit, Turner occasionally hung his head or dabbed at his eyes as he watched Gregory's loved ones speak from the witness stand.
Eventually, he stood up from his seat, leaned into a microphone and said, "I really want to apologize and beg for y'all's forgiveness. ... I think about this every day, and I pray on it every day."
Gregory's parents called out, "Thank you" from across the room.
Turner drove a black Pontiac Vibe into Gregory as he cycled north on Elysian Fields Avenue near Royal Street the night of July 6, 2015. Police said that Turner sped off. Gregory died at the scene.
A Crimestoppers tip later led investigators to the 2700 block of Delery Street in the Lower 9th Ward, where they found the Pontiac. Turner surrendered to police. Authorities booked him on manslaughter, and he was out on bond until he was re-jailed following his guilty plea.
One of manslaughter’s definitions in Louisiana is a killing done without an intent to cause injury.
Gregory was a Virginia native who studied art at Indiana University and lived in Pittsburgh before moving to Bywater in 2004. Meinzer, also an artist, later joined him in New Orleans.
Gregory's paintings sold at New Orleans art galleries, in the French Quarter and at an art market on Frenchmen Street, where he painted a mural.
His death spurred protests outside City Hall, where participants lay on the ground to demonstrate their anger at what they deemed unsafe conditions created by motorists for cyclists on local roads.
On Tuesday, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said Turner's sentence "will speak volumes about the value we place on human life and how seriously this city respects the rights and safety of its cycling community."
A hit-and-run driver charged with killing a cyclist in the Marigny neighborhood three years ago pleaded guilty to manslaughter on Monday, thro…