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Watson's family nears settlement

Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2008

The estate of victim Jody Watson asked the court Wednesday to excuse Stephanie Smathers from paying criminal restitution as part of a six-figure wrongful death settlement.

Attorney Mark Choate represents Watson's estate and said he reached a tentative settlement agreement with Smathers, who would pay $100,000 to Watson's family. The figure was set by the limit of the Smathers family's insurance, which has agreed to cover her civil liability, Choate said.

Watson died shortly after a head-on collision on the Brotherhood Bridge in August 2005. Stephanie Smathers, 21, and David Alex, 24, who were physically fighting in the van that struck Watson's car, pleaded guilty to reckless homicide in a dual plea bargain last winter and began serving prison sentences in October.

Choate requested the Wednesday hearing and asked the judge to excuse the $12,000 to $20,000 Smathers presumably owed to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board.

The settlement is for Smathers' civil liability in Watson's death. Choate said he didn't wish for a penny of the settlement money to get beyond Watson's family.

"It's probably the only funds we'll see," he said.

Juneau Superior Court Philip Pallenberg, filling in for Judge Patricia Collins, said that Collins named no final figure or recipient of criminal restitution at Smathers' sentencing.

Pallenberg said a victim could waive rights to restitution. After Watson's death, her family becomes the victim and consideration should be given to their wishes, he said.

The crux is for the court to decide if the Violent Crimes Compensation Board is also a victim and entitled to compensation.

Pallenberg rescheduled the hearing for February to allow the board and Choate to discuss options.

Choate has a meeting with the board this morning to seek their agreement to waive Smathers' restitution.

Juneau District Attorney Doug Gardner asked Pallenberg to include codefendant Alex in the hearing set for next month. His sentencing and restitution were tied to Smathers' as part of their dual plea bargain.

"He has a dog in this fight," Gardner said.

Choate encouraged the court to not make restitution a joint penalty. Alex should get no benefit from Smathers' insurance, he said.

From the state's perspective the decision to pass over any due restitution is the compensation board's to make.

"The ball is in their court," Gardner said.

• Contact reporter Greg Skinner at 523-2258 or by e-mail at greg.skinner@juneauempire.com.



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