By Katherine Longjohn
INDIO, CA – The sentencing of Daniel Blevins for vehicular manslaughter in the deaths of three women, who were visiting California to meet their long-lost relatives, took place Friday in Riverside County Superior Court.
Judge Anthony Villalobos heard statements from the victims’ family, arguments from Defense Counsel Gregory Johnson, and, after initial reluctance, arguments from Deputy District Attorney Karen Salas before issuing Blevins’ final sentence of 10 years and eight months in state prison.
In March of 2020, what began as a family reunion where two long-lost sisters and one’s daughter planned to meet family in California for the first time after discovering each other through an ancestry kit, quickly turned into a nightmare.
The night before two of the sisters and one of their daughters were supposed to fly home to Oklahoma, tragedy struck.
According to statements made by the husband of one of the long lost sister’s daughter, “(Blevins) saw the car entering the intersection, didn’t even consider swerving or hitting the brakes to avoid the collision,” but rather “hit the car with such force” so that it spun “over 300 yards.”
Emphasizing the strength of the hit he continued, saying “that’s three football fields away from the point of impact.”
As a result of the collision, one of the sisters and her daughter died at the scene, with the other sister sustaining critical injuries that took her life days after the incident.
Referencing a questionnaire asking about what sentence he believed Blevins should receive, the husband said, “I believe he should get life in prison with no chance of parole. He took my wife from me, my mother-in-law and her aunt in one fell swoop. My kids lost their grandmother and aunt.”
Frustrated with how this case has been handled, he continued, “I served in the military for 25 years. I went to war for this country…I’ve missed birthdays, anniversaries, Christmases, graduations and other events for this country, and I find out from the DA that Mr. Blevins should only get a possible 10 years for killing three generations of a family.”
“I am totally angry at how this case has been resolved and the total lack of empathy shown by any official in Riverside County,” said the husband.
After the heartbreaking statements made by the victims’ family members, Defense Counsel Johnson gave his arguments to the court.
“I am an advocate for defendants so I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t say something” on Blevins’ behalf…I’m not here to disrespect the family members that went through this horrific incident,” said Defense Counsel Johnson.
He proceeded to remind the court of mitigating factors in this case, namely that Blevins was 50 years old at the time of the incident and had no prior criminal record, which he noted is “unique in (his) business.”
He argued for a “mid-term” sentence, noting “Mr. Blevins did not intend to kill anyone that night,” and that while his actions were grossly negligent, the court cannot substitute negligence for intent in this case.”
Judge Villalobos asked DDA Salas if she would like him to give the court’s intended sentence to see if she needed to further address the court, to which she agreed.
Judge Villalobos began by reminding all parties present that “the court cannot be in favor of one side over another, but needs to be a neutral and fair party.”
In balancing the egregiousness of the act as well as the lack of criminal history, Judge Villalobos said that it was the court’s intent to impose the mid-term on all counts, which would be a total of nine years and eight months in state prison.
Judge Villalobos said he was going to go with the indicated sentence, however DDA Salas interjected by saying, “I haven’t finished my argument.”
To which Judge Villalobos responded, “Counsel, no. Wait a minute, counsel. I’ve heard enough…I went over this. I spent hours on this last night. I went over everything…I think the way that I was proceeding factually reflects what occurred here.”
After some back and forth, DDA Salas passionately defended her right to address the court by saying:
“No, the court let Mr. Johnson make arguments to the court. I have not had a chance to address the law and what an appropriate sentence is to the court. The victims were heard. Mr. Johnson was heard. I did not get a chance to be heard. The People of the state of California have the opportunity to also be heard. It may not change your mind but we have the opportunity to be heard, ” said DDA Salas.
“Okay counsel, and I have heard everything and I have read everything,” said Judge Villalobos
DDA Salas began to say “so you are going to preclude the People from making the statements…” when, exasperated, Judge Villalobos gave in:
“Okay counsel, fine. I’m just telling you I worked all through lunch on this. I reread everything again, so I don’t think there’s anything in addition you’re going to state… but go ahead,” said Judge Villalobos.
After hearing DDA Salas give her arguments to the court and in light of reviewing all the circumstances of this case, Judge Villalobos decided to impose the high term on one of the counts, bringing Blevins’ sentence from the intended nine years and eight months to a total of 10 years and eight months in state prison.