Alex sentenced to 3 years in prison for student's death

Judge gives 24-year-old maximum time allowed by his plea bargain

Posted: Thursday, October 04, 2007

David Alex, 24, sobbed hard in the already tearful courtroom Wednesday, before he was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the 2005 traffic death of Jody Watson.

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"I just want to get this thing over with, Mama," he cried to his mother during a break in the sentencing hearing.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins gave Alex the maximum sentence allowed by his plea bargain. In that deal, charges against Alex were reduced from manslaughter and evidence tampering to criminally negligent homicide.

Collins did not suspend one year of the sentence as she did Tuesday for co-defendant Stephanie Smathers. Plea agreements tied the pair's sentencing so that Alex would not receive a greater sentence than Smathers.

Smathers and Alex were physically fighting when the van he was driving crossed into the oncoming lane and collided with Watson's car on Aug. 31, 2005, on Brotherhood Bridge.

"When I consider the seriousness of your offense, I do believe you are more culpable," Collins said. "You knew you did not have insurance. You put the key in the ignition. You were on pain medication."

Before passing the sentence, Collins heard from Diane Souron, Watson's mother. She described Alex's criminal history and said he was well-known to the Juneau police.

"He has been and remains a threat," Souron said. "Mr. Alex made the decision to use drugs and drive; he doesn't deserve leniency."

Collins said the head-on collision that killed Watson, 25, highlighted the dangers of taking pain medication and driving. Alex and Smathers both had the opiate-based pain killer Oxycodone in their systems the day of the crash. Alex had a prescription; Smathers did not.

"Too many young people come to court with an addiction to that drug," Collins said. "I see a significant addiction to pain medication."

District Attorney Doug Gardner furthered the description of Alex as a drug addict, saying he made no efforts at rehabilitation after pleading guilty to the amended charges last April. Collins postponed Alex's sentencing for six months allowing him to seek drug treatment equal to that of Smathers.

"He is not interested in rehabilitation," Gardner said. He went on to explain Alex's recent involvement in a "gang fight" at Echo Cove.

David Sied, Alex's attorney, said that his client did not have a family that could pay to send him down south for treatment.

Collins rejected the excuse saying that people with no means find treatment if they want it.

"Drugs are a non-issue in this case," Seid said.

The state's expert said that the level of Oxycodone in Alex's blood was a therapeutic dose, Seid said. Alex was prescribed the drug for pain after he was in a serious car crash that left a man dead in the 1998. Alex and the man who was killed were thrown after riding on the roof of a van on Eaglecrest Road.

Seid said his client admitted his role in the Watson homicide.

"We can't distinguish who is more at fault," he said, referring to Smathers.

Before hearing his sentence, Alex told Collins he was sorry for the loss in Watson's family.

"No one should have to go through that," he said.

After two years of freedom following Watson's death, Alex is to report to Lemon Creek Correctional Center by 8 p.m. tonight. Collins ordered 10 years of probation following his release and restitution payments of $22,000 for costs associated with Watson's burial.

"Jail is important," she said. "It gives you an opportunity to seek treatment."

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



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