Baylor Graduate Sentenced to 10 Years Probation After Deadly Hit-and-Run
AUSTIN, TEXAS (KXAN) - BREAKING NEWS: Gabrielle Nestande was given a 10-year suspended sentence and will serve no jail time on the recommendation of the jury on Friday afternoon.
The jurors returned to the courtroom around 3 p.m. Nestande was seen crying as she entered the courtroom and was being comforted by her father.
She was standing with her lawyers when the verdict was read and had regained her composure once the proceedings began. Laurie Griffin, the mother of the woman who died in the May 2011 hit-and-run, told reporters the family was "heartbroken" by the jury's recommendation.
She said a 15-year prison sentence would have been appropriate.
State District Judge Karen Sage said she plans to examine the terms of the probation and make a final ruling in the case on March 25. In the jury's recommendation read by Sage, the jury said members took into consideration Nestande's otherwise clean record.
Original Report One day after Gabrielle Nestande was convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the May 2011 hit-and-run death of Courtney Griffin, she was hearing the closing statements from the lawyers trying to send her to prison and those hoping to keep her free.
The 25-year-old former aide to a state lawmaker is facing a sentence of two to 10 years behind bars. But the jury could also opt to give her a probated sentence under which she would remain under the authority of the justice system.
If given prison time, Nestande would be eligible for parole after half of the sentence is served.
Assistant District Attorney Mary Farrington urged the jury to send Nestande to prison. "We don't feel probation is appropriate in this case," she said. "It's not a just sentence. She is eligible, not entitled to probation.
"Send a message. Let this family know and this community know Courtney's life had meaning. Probation is not accountability."
The prosecutor said the terms of a probated sentence are far too lenient considering the consequences of Nestande's action. She also told jurors that if they believed drinking was a factor in the crash and her decision not to report it to police, it should be taken into account when assessing the sentence.
"Is that the kind of message you want to send? Go out, drink, drive, hit people, leave?" Farrington said.
Nestande's attorney Perry Minton, in his closing, reminded the jury that Nestande must live with what happened for the rest of her life. He rejected the prosecution's argument that probation would be too lenient.
"If anyone thinks this is a slap on the wrist, they are wrong," said Minton, who added that it's not the jury's job to send a message. "She is convicted of a felony and will be convicted felon rest of her life."
He argued that Nestande is not a future threat to public safety. He asked the jury "to be open-minded"
"We put people in prison we are scared of, not that we are mad at," Minton said.
Sam Bassett, another defense lawyer, said Nestande "is worth the risk" of granting probation. She has held a job, performed volunteer work and expressed remorse for her actions, Bassett said.
Another prosecutor, Allison Wetzel, told the jury that Nestande has still not spent a night in custody since the death of Griffin. Wetzel also dispute any portrayal as a helpless young woman. Instead, she said, Nestande committed "a cowardly and selfish act" by leaving the crash site.
"This is not a little girl," Wetzel said. "Her lawyers try to make her feel frail and helpless. She is an adult woman who has made choices that hurt people."
She urged the jury to hand down a sentence that tells the Griffin family, 'Here is what your daughter means to us."
"The rest of us will live with what decision you make," Wetzel said. "When you come out, I hope you can look Courtney's family in the eye."
The closing statements wrapped up at 10:55 a.m. and the jury was set to begin deliberating the sentence.
The guilty verdict, handed down Thursday after 21 hours of deliberation of three days, cleared Nestande of the intoxication manslaughter and manslaugter charges, and the charge of failure to stop and render aid. However, the jury also determined that the vehicle was driving in the overnight hours of May 26-27, 2011 was used as a deadly weapon in the crash.
After the verdict came down Thursday, the two-week trial moved to the punishment phase and jurors heard from the father of Griffin and the father of Nestande.
Bart Griffin spoke of the anguish he suffered when told that his daughter had been run down of Exposition Boulevard and left to die in a West Austin driveway.
Bruce Nestande told jurors that he sympathized with Courtney Griffin's family and friends because he lost a son to heart disease years before. He also said that his daughter is now a changed woman.
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