Robert Shepherd will spend the next 30 years in prison for killing another man while driving drunk at 105 mph north of Havre.
Shepherd told the court before he was sentenced today that he is not asking for forgiveness.
“I wish it was me,” he told the family of Joel Bell, who died at the scene of the Sept. 9, 2009, crash.
“I wish I could take it back. I will live with this the rest of my life,” Shepherd added.
Shepherd pleaded no contest to the charge of vehicular homicide while under the influence of alcohol.
Following the recommendations of Probation and Parole Officer Holly Matkin, who prepared the presentence investigation report for the case, and Hill County Attorney Gina Dahl, Judge David Rice sentenced Shepherd to the maximum allowed by law, 30 years, with no time suspended.
“If I could give you 40 years, I would probably give you that,” Rice said when he pronounced the sentence.
Matkin said in her testimony that Shepherd presented an unusual case. He had five prior DUI convictions before the 2009 crash, along with other traffic citations.
In the last five years, 43 people were sentenced in Montana for vehicular homicide while under the influence, Matkin testified. Only three of those had prior felony convictions, and none for DUI.
Matkin said Shepherd’s history of falling off the wagon — the 2009 crash occurred only a few months after he left her supervision when he finished a generally successful five-year suspended sentence for a previous DUI — indicate he needs intense and lengthy supervision.
Rice, who credited Shepherd with 177 days served, noted that he will be eligible for parole in about 8 years.
“And I expect you will be released,” he said.
Dan Boucher, Shepherd’s attorney, had requested that Rice impose 30 years with 15 suspended. His client has shown complete remorse since he recovered consciousness from the crash, and it should be up to the parole board at the Montana State Prison to determine if he is ready to return to the community, Boucher said.
Rice agreed that it should be up to the parole board to determine when Shepherd is ready to return to the community. However, Rice said, he wants to make sure the alternative to not drinking is to return to prison, not to return to district court for a review of a suspended sentence.
He agreed with Matkin’s recommendation that Shepherd be considered for a special state-sponsored rehabilitation program for people who have caused alcohol-related traffic deaths.
Matkin noted in her testimony that Shepherd had expressed interest in talking to people once he serves his prison sentence about what he had done.
Several of Bell’s family said they believe Shepherd is the wrong person to do that — that he would send the message it’s OK to quit drinking for a while, then to drink again.
Rice disagreed. While pronouncing his sentence, he said he understands the feelings of Bell’s family.
“I think you are the very person to be talking to people, so they can see what this has done to you. It doesn't bring anybody back, it just tells people that your life has been changed because of your choice. If there is any deterrence, it’s probably you standing before a group of kids.”