Hodgenville man to serve 15 years

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Landmark News Service

After being charged with murder for the deaths of an Elizabethtown couple following a wreck in August 2013, a Hodgenville man accepted a plea deal just moments before jury selection was to begin.

Earl Dale Richardson, 47, pleaded guilty Wednesday morning to reduced charges of reckless homicide, one count for each of the two victims Johnie and Luevenia Dennis, in Hardin Circuit Court. The recommended sentence was a total of 15 years.

“I take responsibility for my actions,” he said during the hearing to accept his plea agreement while potential jurors waited outside the courtroom. “I shouldn’t have been drinking and driving.”

The deal, which was offered five days prior to trial, was discussed with the victims’ family, Assistant Common­wealth’s Attorney Chris McCrary said.

According to the plea agreement, Richardson will serve five years on each count of reckless homicide and one count of first-degree wanton endangerment. The sentences will run consecutively for a total of 15 years.

Richardson also will serve 90 days for no operator’s license and 30 days for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of intoxicants, first offense. Those sentences are to run concurrently with the felony charges.

During the hearing, Richardson said he has served 19 months. Accor­ding to his plea agreement, he will be eligible for parole after serving 20 percent of his sentence.

The commonwealth dismissed without prejudice a charge of tampering with physical evidence and first-degree persistent felony offender.

Circuit Judge Ken Howard accep­ted the plea agreement and set Rich­ardson’s formal sentencing for 10 a.m. Feb. 24.

“With multiple motions presented, I have reviewed most, if not all, of the evidence in this case,” Howard said. “I believe the agreement is consistent with evidence presented by the commonwealth.”

According to the indictment, Rich­ardson was driving under the influence of alcohol Aug. 18, 2013, when he was involved in a fatal wreck that killed Johnie Dennis, 75, and Luevenia Dennis, 71, on Lincoln Parkway. Richardson’s then-10-year-old son, who was a passenger in his vehicle, also was injured in the crash.

According to Ken­tucky State Police, Rich­­­ard­son was traveling south on Lincoln Parkway in a 1997 Chev­rolet Blazer when Johnie Dennis drove westbound on Roundtop Road in a 2004 Nissan Sentra into the path of Richardson. The couple was pronounced dead at the scene.

According to evidence the commonwealth collected, a toxicologist was to testify Richardson’s blood-alcohol content was 0.227 at the time of the crash. McCrary said there was no evidence of Richardson speeding or driving recklessly.

Following the hearing, McCrary said the plea agreement was what the victims’ family wanted.

“The most important thing we want to do is talk to the family,” he said. “They wanted him to take responsibility for the death of their parents.”

McCrary said the two main points of contention going into the trial were the toxicology report and the crash reconstruction.

“He did have the right of way,” McCrary said. “He didn’t have a license, but that doesn’t show wanton conduct.”

Law usually does not allow someone’s level of intoxication as evidence of wanton conduct either, McCrary said.

“What we would have to make is a showing that his level of intoxication resulted in him not braking in time,” he said. “Unfortunately, we consulted with expert accident reconstructionists and there’s no study to show the correspondence between the level of intoxicants and response time.”

With the circumstance, McCrary said the plea agreement was the “best possible solution.”