AUSTIN -- A jury has sentenced a former paramedic convicted of intoxication manslaughter to a total of eight years in prison.
“I’m very sorry, sir,” Terri Elmore said quietly just before Judge Jim Coronado read the sentence.
The sentence was given to Elmore on Tuesday, along with a $20,000 fine. However, the judge decided to probate her fine, which means she will not have to pay it.
Pastor Jackson Boyett and his wife Barbara died in November 2011 after police say Elmore veered into their lane and hit them head-on at Highway 290 near Baxter Lane.
Elmore was found guilty of two counts of intoxication manslaughter on Monday. There was an option to find her guilty of a lesser charge, driving while intoxicated, but jurors did not choose it.
Elmore faced up to two to 20 years in prison per count, totaling a possible 40 years in prison. Instead, after 3.5 hours of deliberations, the jury gave her four years for each victim. She will be eligible for parole in four years.
Jim Erickson, Elmore’s attorney, told reporters he hoped this jury would follow the suit of other juries in similar cases. Erickson used the case of Gabrielle Nestande as an example. She’s the former legislative aide who hit and killed a jogger on Exposition Boulevard and fled the scene. Nestande received 180 days in jail and probation.
“The jury, in this case, I don't think knows the context of what has been happening to everybody else, and they did what they thought was right," said Erickson, who told KVUE he plans to appeal Elmore’s conviction.
Erickson also expressed concern for Elmore’s five children, whose mother will not be eligible for parole until she serves half of her eight-year sentence.
“I think it was a just verdict tempered by mercy,” said current Dayspring Fellowship Church Pastor Greg Van Court.
Van Court said the trial has been overwhelming as they relived memories of Jackson and Barbara Boyett.
“They were like a father and a mother to so many people,” Van Court said.
“He was a grandpa to me. There's no other way to say it,” said Jackson Fuller, who was named after Boyett.
The 17-year-old missed school to sit in on the trial.
“They were there for every part of my life, and I just wanted to see this through and kind of get some closure with this,” Fuller said.
Church members said the punishment actually came as a surprise.
“We wanted her to do some prison time and this was more than we expected," said Van Court. "Travis County does not have a good track record when it comes to sentencing drunk drivers who kill people.”
Elmore's attorneys said they didn't expect it either. They hoped for probation.
“We feel like our client, at least in my words, was a poster child for probation with five children and the work she's done in the community, [and] she has no criminal history, but the jury decided differently," said defense attorney James Erickson.
Church members told Elmore in court they will continue to pray for her and they hope this sentence will serve as a warning to others.
“I hope it sends the message that we should not drink and drive, and that those who do drink and drive should be held accountable, and we should uphold the virtue of justice here in Travis County,” said Van Court.
Prosecutors said during trial there was no doubt that Elmore drank, drove and killed the Boyetts. They say tests prove she had a blood alcohol level more than two times the legal limit. Defense attorneys countered, saying Elmore left the bar upset that night, but there’s no way of knowing how much alcohol she actually drank.
During the sentencing phase Monday afternoon, the Boyetts' friends and fellow church members testified. They described the couple as godly, caring and witty. They said the couple was a perfect match for one another. They told the jury the Boyetts would have wanted them to forgive Elmore, but they also seek justice.
A Travis County clerk also testified, detailing a list of violations on her ignition interlock device. He said the device registered alcohol on five different days.
Elmore's husband, Todd Gantt, explained to the jury they would have a glass of wine with dinner because she has memory loss issues from the crash and didn’t remember that she wasn’t supposed to drink at all while on bond. Gantt said they met at a church service and got married eight months ago. Gantt is a pastor and medical sales rep. He said Elmore volunteers with the church and ministers to others as well.
Elmore’s ex-husband, Randy Elmore, said Elmore is a good mother to her five children, and they need her at home.
Elmore also took the stand on Monday. She became hysterical, and Coronado asked the jury to step out as she composed herself. She told the jury this week has been overwhelming.