Car theft earns girl 20 days’ detention

Angry courtroom exchanges flow between parties in the fatal August crash.

A 14-year-old Bainbridge girl was sentenced Wednesday to 20 days in juvenile detention for stealing a car from her parents, a vehicle that later was crashed by another teen, killing 16-year-old passenger Sarah Gillette last August.

“I never wanted this to happen,” the girl sobbed to Superior Court Judge Leila Mills, in a Port Orchard courtroom. “When I took the car, I never knew this would happen. Sarah was my friend too. I can’t even say how sorry I am, to the Gillettes, to my friends, to my family.”

Her mother at her side, she added, “I think I have been punished enough. It can’t get any worse than this.”

It was a contentious hearing. Sarah Gillette’s mother Caroline Brooks and other family members criticized the prosecution for not charging the girl with a more serious crime – such as vehicular homicide – and for recommending a deferred sentence that would be removed from her record if she succesfully completed the terms of her sentence.

The parents of the 14-year-old defendant were considered the victims in the case, as the charges pertained to the vehicle theft, not the passenger’s death. That offended Gillette’s parents and led to to heated discussions about the appropriateness of letting the family speak about their grief.

“They are not the victims in this case,” objected defense attorney John Henry Browne.

The prosecutor agreed, on legal grounds.

Deputy District Attorney Todd Dowell defended the charges, saying they were appropriate given the accused girl’s role in the tragedy, particularly since another 14-year-old girl – who was driving the car when it crashed – pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide in December.

“I feel deeply sorry for the Gillette family, but someone already took responsibility for the death of Sarah Gillette, and that person is serving her sentence as we speak,” Dowell said. “I know that family is upset and feels that the charges should be different in this case, but they are appropriate.”

Dowell said the standard sentence in such a case was five days; he recommended 20 days because of the tragic outcome.

Browne told Judge Mills that if she didn’t agree with the deferred sentence that was recommended by the prosecutor, he and his client would go to trial.

But Mills said she could not agree to a sentence that would be dismissed, saying it would not benefit the community. She then called for a recess, suggesting that the lawyers decide on a trial date.

After a consultation with Browne, the defendant pleaded guilty to the felony charges, even though they will remain on her criminal record as an adult.

She was sentenced to detention, probation for one year, community service, resitution, counseling and drug and alcohol testing. She reported to a juvenile detention facility Friday.

Before issuing the sentence, Mills said she would like to hear from the family members of Sarah Gillette who had come to the hearing. Brooks stepped forward with a picture of Sarah and her twin, Caiti, and began to cry.

“I want (the defendant) and her parents to know that we hold her just as responsible for our daughter’s death as (the driver),” Brooks said. “She caused this situation. There has been no remorse from the family. Not even a phone call. We ask for the maximum sentence.”

As she spoke, the teen defendant sobbed and put her head into her arms.

Browne objected to the comments, saying they were untrue.

Browne said his client was remorseful and had been subjected to abuse since the accident, with food thrown at her by other students at the high school, threats made against her on a regular basis.

He told the court the girl was suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and was seeing a psychiatrist.

The defendant’s mother, given a chance to address the court, denied a lack of remorse and said her family had suffered and been the object of hatred since the fatal crash.

She said the family had become such outcasts that they are leaving the island and sending their daughter to boarding school.

She also turned to one of the boys who was injured in the crash, and asked why no one was charging him and the others who were in the car.

“He’s 17,” she said angrily, pointing at one boy. “She had just turned 14,” she said of her daughter.

After delivering the sentence, the judge said, “There is nothing the court can do to turn back he clock. To bring back Sarah. I am hopeful that the families can begin to heal. But it will take time. There is a lot of anger and bitterness.

“Hopefully, in time, that will turn around.”

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