Smathers faces 3 years in prison

Judge sentences woman to 6 years, with 3 suspended, for two felonies

Posted: Wednesday, October 03, 2007

An effort to paint Stephanie Smathers as another victim in the 2005 traffic accident that left a college student dead fell on deaf ears as Judge Patricia Collins sentenced the 21-year-old to six years in prison, with three suspended.

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On Tuesday in Juneau Superior Court, Collins gave Smathers a three-year sentence, with one year suspended, for her involvement in the death of Jody Watson, and three years, with two suspended, for a felony theft conviction last January. Smathers faces 10 years of probation upon her release.

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The sentence was in keeping with a plea agreement reached last January and one year longer than the state asked for.

Smathers was physically fighting with driver David Alex when the van they were in crossed the center line and collided head-on with Jody Watson's car on Aug. 31, 2005, on Brotherhood Bridge.

Sentencing for codefendant Alex is expected today. Smathers is scheduled to testify during the hearing.

Before the sentence was announced, Smathers' attorney, Thomas Nave, called two witnesses, including Smathers' mother. The witnesses spoke of Smathers' completion of a court-ordered 90-day drug rehabilitation and her role as victim.

Nave said his client had indeed made bad choices that led to Watson's death, but was herself a "victim" and was "manipulated" into her lifestyle. The portrayal was not offered as an excuse, but a way to get at the varying degrees of culpability in Watson's death, Nave said.

Smathers addressed Collins through tears: "I chose to be with David. ... I chose to get involved with drugs. ... I'm trying to get my life on track. ... Overall, I'm trying to say I'm sorry."

Smathers did not mention Jody Watson by name.

Judy Smathers, the defendant's mother, blamed Alex for the accident.

"He has more responsibility for this. He was driving," she said.

She also told the judge her daughter was a victim of domestic violence and of forced drug addiction.

The pair were found to have Oxycodone, a heavy pain-killing drug, in their systems the night of the accident.

Judy Smathers told the judge her daughter stole $4,500 in cash and merchandise from Gottschalks department store last December to pay off unknown people threatening the Smathers family with death because of a drug debt she and Alex accrued during their relationship.

"It involved the drug world," Smathers said. "She didn't want to ask for more money."

Juneau District Attorney Doug Gardner said all comments were about how Smathers was faring in her life following the accident, not about her taking responsibility.

"The finger pointing started on Aug. 31, 2005," Gardner said. "That finger pointing went on today."

Watson's mother Diane Souron testified that Smathers did not call 911 or help her daughter as she lay dying after the crash. Smathers had time to call friends to come and get drugs before the police showed up at the accident site on Brotherhood Bridge, she said.

Souron described two MySpace postings Smathers made while living at a California "sober living community" last January. Smathers wrote that she was "soaking up the sun and starting to live the dream." Another post detailed a trip to watch the Super Bowl in Las Vegas with a friend. Smathers was late returning to rehab from that trip.

"It seems to me that her treatment was not successful," Souron said before asking for the maximum sentence. "She has shown no remorse."

Collins sent Smathers to prison with hopes of more drug rehabilitation and a warning of future incarceration. She said that sobriety for Smathers would be a lifetime project.

"If you continue to do drugs, isolation will be a primary focus."

• Contact Greg Skinner at 523-2258 or greg.skinner@juneauempire.com.



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