A judge sentenced a Norman man to 12 years in prison Thursday for driving drunk in the wrong direction and causing a crash killing a jazz singer as she returned home from a performance.
Justin Taylor Hill, 25, also received eight years of probation after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in the April 17, 2010, traffic collision that killed Ashlee Madison, 24, of Oklahoma City.
Hill also pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an injury accident before the fatal collision and causing an accident while driving under the influence.
It was Hill's second arrest for drunken driving. He pleaded guilty in 2009 in Cleveland County to driving under the influence and received a deferred sentence. He had been off probation for less than two days when Madison was killed, prosecutors said.
Hill's blood alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit, a state trooper who investigated the fatal crash testified Thursday. Hill, the trooper said, was driving a sport utility vehicle southbound in the northbound lanes of Interstate 235 about 2 a.m. when he sideswiped a car driven by Madison's boyfriend Ronny Matharu near the intersection of Interstate 40 and Interstate 35.
The boyfriend's vehicle spun around and slammed into a retaining wall, killing his passenger instantly. Madison, Matharu testified, had reclined her seat and was singing before her death.
Hill ignored several opportunities to change direction before the fatal crash. He also continued driving in the wrong direction after an oncoming car swerved to avoid being hit head-on and crashed into a concrete barrier, Trooper George Moser told the court.
“I believe he passed five exits,” he said.
The couple was driving to Edmond following a performance by Madison and her band at Riverwind Casino. Madison, a friend testified, was going to pick up her young son the next day.
Madison was working on a master's degree at the University of Oklahoma at the time of her death. She enjoyed poetry and had been writing a screenplay when she died, according to family testimony. She was remembered as a leader and a visionary who touched everyone she came in contact with.
“I've been emotionally and spiritually altered by the senseless death of my precious daughter,” said Lisa Madison, the victim's mother. “He chose to play a deadly game of chicken with people's lives and my daughter paid the ultimate price.”
Hill apologized to the victim's family.
“I accept full responsibility for my actions and the consequences that will follow,” he said. “The person driving that car is not the same person standing here today.”
Before sentencing Hill, Oklahoma County District Judge Ray C. Elliott said he understood what both families were going through. The judge said he lost two people “very close to me,” who were killed by a drunken driver, and later sentenced a friend to prison for killing someone while driving drunk.
“Ms. Madison didn't have a choice,” Elliott told the defendant, whose family packed one side of the courtroom. “And for the choice that you made, you have to be punished.”
Family and friends of the victim filled half the courtroom. Madison's mother broke down after the sentence was handed down. She asked the judge to sentence Hill to 24 years, her daughter's age.
“I don't think it's a fair sentence,” said Kim Madison, the victim's aunt. “I think he deserves more time behind bars.”
Hill's attorney, along with a probation officer and several family members, characterized Hill as a changed man who is remorseful for his actions and has taken steps to address his problem with alcohol.
The attorney and the probation officer recommended a split sentence that would allow the defendant to “become a useful member of society” once he is released.
“It will haunt him for the rest of his life,” defense attorney Steve Huddleston said.