WASHINGTON – An illegal immigrant found guilty of murder for causing a crash while drunk driving that killed a Benedictine nun has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Carlos Martinelly Montano, 24, was sentenced to 20 years for the murder and 20 years for other charges, to be served concurrently.
Martinelly’s 16-year-old brother and mother spoke on his behalf and Martinelly read a letter about finding God in prison.
At one point, Martinelly’s brother broke down in tears on the stand.
The judge said the testimony led him to reduce the sentence.
He had faced up to 70 years in prison.
The prosecution did not present any witnesses during the sentencing. And neither of the surviving nuns was present.
Martinelly had been convicted of drunken driving twice before but was never deported. The case drew national attention.
Martinelly had pled guilty to lesser charges, including involuntary manslaughter. But his lawyers strongly disputed the murder charge, saying Martinelly’s actions – while negligent -lacked the element of malice that is required for a murder conviction.
Prosecutors acknowledged that the death of Sister Denise Mosier, 66, who lived in a convent in Richmond, was unintentional. But they argued that Virginia law allows a murder conviction when a death occurs in furtherance of an underlying felony, and in Virginia a third conviction for driving while intoxicated is classified as a felony.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Ronald Reel also argued that “a person driving under the influence of alcohol is a mobile bomb” and that Martinelly should have foreseen the consequences of his actions.
Martinelly’s conviction also appeared to set a legal precedent in Virginia. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys said it appeared to be the first reported case in the state where the murder laws were used in this fashion to prosecute a drunken-driving fatality.
Political leaders in Prince William County seized on Martinelly’s case as proof that federal authorities weren’t sufficiently aggressive in deporting of criminal illegal aliens.
Prince William County filed a lawsuit against DHS in an attempt to get the agency to turn over records on an illegal immigrant charged with killing a nun.
During the trial, police officer Luis Zamora said Martinelly admitted he had been drinking for several days leading up to the Sunday morning crash, and said he was upset that his family had left him behind while they took a vacation to the beach. Officers found roughly 20 empty Coors Light cans in Martinelly’s car.
The two surviving nuns also testified. Sister Connie Ruth Lupton said she remembers nothing at all about the day of the crash, and her first memory is weeks later, when the hospital took her off a ventilator. She suffered 14 broken bones and had her left thumb severed by her seat belt from the impact of the crash. She said her spine is “connected with screws and pins” and she now walks with a cane.
The nun who was driving the car on Bristow Road, Charlotte Lange, said she “remembered a car coming at me at a distance” followed by a huge impact.
Mosier was pronounced dead at the scene. Martinelly and the two nuns were taken to the hospital by helicopter.
Martinelly’s immigration status did not come up once during the trial.
Martinelly came to the U.S. with his family from Bolivia when he was 9. He was facing deportation proceedings at the time of the Aug. 1, 2010 crash. But his lawyers said Monday that he had a work permit at the time, and they disputed the accuracy of calling him an illegal immigrant.
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