CLINTON, LA (WAFB) - The man who pleaded guilty to driving drunk and killing seven people in a crash had his sentence cut in half Tuesday morning.
Judge William Carmichael reduced the sentence for Brett Gerald from 70 years in prison to 35. He must serve 85 percent of the new sentence, which means almost 29 years and 9 months.
Family members of the seven victims said they had never intended to turn this tragedy into a racial issue, but several of them do believe it does have something to do with the judge's change of heart.
His attorney, Tommy D'Amico, filed the motion asking the judge to consider Gerald's "extreme remorse for the harm that he caused, his lack of intent to cause harm and his positive value to his family and his community."
Gerald pleaded guilty in December to seven counts of vehicular homicide. The charges stem from a tragedy in Slaughter last May. Police said Gerald's blood alcohol content was nearly twice the legal limit the night of the crash. Seven people were killed, six from the same family, as they returned home from church.
Carmichael originally sentenced Gerald to 10 years on each count and ruled at least five years of each count would have to be served without the possibility of parole. He had faced anywhere from five to 210 years in prison.
Grandmother Brenda Gaines was driving her daughter, Denise Gaines, and Denise's four children, Diamond Johnson, Jyran Johnson, Willie Gaines and Rogerick Johnson, Jr. Also in the vehicle was a fellow church member Angela Mosley.
The group killed in the crash was headed back to Baton Rouge from a bible study in Clinton. Brenda, Denise, Diamond, Jyran and Angela were all killed instantly in the crash. Willie Gaines was taken off life support June 3, 2012. His family decided to donate his organs. Rogerick Johnson, 13, was later taken off life support and also died.
Investigators believe Gerald was out celebrating his 30th birthday and was under the influence of alcohol. After testing his blood alcohol content, police said Gerald's BAC was .15g percent, which is nearly twice the legal limit of .08g percent.