By Jeff Weiner, The Orlando Sentinel –
ORLANDO, Fla. — A mother accused of crashing her car while driving drunk with her four children — fatally injuring her 14-year-old daughter — was sentenced to 10 years in prison Thursday in a plea agreement.
Melissa Shonvette Johnson, 33, pleaded no contest to aggravated manslaughter of a child, a first-degree felony, and was convicted and taken into custody.
She will serve four years’ probation after the prison term. She was also barred from ever holding a driver’s license. Prosecutors agreed to drop two lesser charges.
The Florida Highway Patrol said Johnson crashed off Overland Road in April 2011. Her vehicle overturned, and she and 14-year-old daughter Daquasha Johnson were ejected.
Daquasha was killed in the crash. Johnson’s three other children, ages 10, 11 and 16 at the time, suffered minor injuries.
Troopers said Johnson’s blood-alcohol level was recorded at 0.24 — three times the legal limit for driving. A hospital test registered even higher: 0.30. A judge at a custody hearing for her surviving children described that reading as “one of the highest I’ve ever seen.”
Johnson suffered serious injuries and was hospitalized for several days after the April 23, 2011, crash.
When a trooper interviewing her at Florida Hospital asked Johnson if she had been drinking, an arrest report says, she said she’d had “Crown Royal and coke.”
The trooper asked if Johnson was referring to Coca-Cola, the report says, and she replied “No, I did Crown Royal and cocaine.”
According to the arrest report, Johnson was belligerent in her interview with the trooper, shouting that “I killed my baby.”
“You can lock me up I don’t care, I was drinking,” she said. Her defense later unsuccessfully argued to have the incriminating statements suppressed because Johnson wasn’t read her Miranda rights.
At Thursday’s hearing, Johnson almost didn’t take the plea offered by the state, after a conflict over her financial obligations — prosecutors wanted Johnson to pay for any counseling her surviving children may need, but her defense said she can’t afford to — led to a brief recess. Johnson returned and rejected the deal.
However, after the prosecutor said the state would make no further offers in the case and the judge pointed out that Johnson would face 30 years in prison if convicted on the same charge at trial, Johnson tearfully took the deal.
Johnson’s defense had planned to argue she was suffering from battered-spouse syndrome at the time of the crash if the case had gone to trial, court filings show.
Her aunt, who has custody of Johnson’s other children, testified before sentencing that Johnson is very “regretful” about the crash, and her family is “devastated about everything that happened, but we do love her.”