Daughter of cyclist killed in 2014 hit-and-run testifies against bill to soften sentencing laws
As lawmakers consider the changes to sentencing laws in criminal justice reform bill House Bill 205, Madisen Dusenbury Shannon hopes they’ll keep cases like her father’s in mind.
Jeff Dusenbury was killed in a hit-and-run crash in July 2014 by Alexandra Ellis, whose sentence of three years with two suspended has been called lenient by some and outrageous by others. Last week, Ellis received credit for 252 days of time spent in an inpatient treatment center toward her prison sentence.
Madisen Dusenbury Shannon flew to Juneau Tuesday to testify in front of members of the House Judiciary Committee.
“It’s in my opinion that this bill works for criminals and against victims,” Dusenbury Shannon told committee members.
Alexandra Ellis was charged with criminally negligent homicide in Dusenbury’s death, a Class B felony. Under HB 205, sentencing for a similar crime would range from zero to two years.
“There are people who are angry at the one-year sentence, I can only imagine how outraged they’d be if they knew Ellis would essentially serve no jail time if this bill would have been in place,” Dusenbury Shannon told the committee.
Dusenbury Shannon also testified against provisions in the bill that would allow for probation sentences to be cut in half as a reward for good behavior.
“To me, this bill just validates that a criminal’s chance of rehabilitation has become more important than the victim,” Dusenbury Shannon said. “I’m confused honestly, how our elected government officials can support certain pieces of this bill, such as the shortened sentencing time and the shortened probation period. Mainly I’m confused because, if I understand correctly, you guys are supposed to be our voice.”
Dusenbury Shannon pointed to articles and online petitions.
“If you look at any media article online, you’ll see hundreds of comments and they’re all overwhelmingly in opposition of this lenient sentence,” said Dusenbury Shannon. “Our community has come together and created certain petitions and there’s about 9,000 signatures on these petitions.”
She told committee members she’d hoped her father’s case could create change for stricter sentences.
“We hoped with the attention this case gained our state would use it as a platform to society, especially the youth, that reckless behavior such as driving under the influence and killing someone are very serious offenses that have very serious consequences,” Dusenbury Shannon said.
Rep. Matt Claman, who knew Jeff Dusenbury personally, said criminal justice reform is complicated.
“I think about him, and I think about you and your family as I think about this bill,” Claman told Dusenbury Shannon. “This is a complicated bill, but we have huge problems in this state and one of them is how many people do we have in jail and how long do we keep them there.”
Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, chair of the committee, called Dusenbury Shannon’s testimony extremely powerful.
“I lost a husband and a son to an automobile accident many, many moons ago, but listening to your testimony brings all that back now,” said LeDoux, who gave Dusenbury Shannon a hug at the end of the hearing.
Rep. Charisse Millett, the bill’s sponsor, was listening over the phone and called the measure an incredibly delicate balance between protecting victims, honoring Jeff Dusenbury, and finding a pathway forward.
“I can’t tell you how heart wrenching your testimony is, but impactful in a way that will have a definite change in direction and change of thought process as we work through this piece of legislation,” Millett told Dusenbury Shannon.
Millett asked Dusenbury Shannon to keep in touch with her, saying she wouldn’t want to do anything that would disrespect or dishonor her father.
“Please know that, that is not the intent. I would like your input and I would like to work with you if at all possible.”
The House Judiciary Committee will continue to hear public testimony on HB 205 Wednesday.
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