BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A drunk driver who killed one bicyclist and badly injured another learned Wednesday that he will spend the next 7.5 years of his life in prison. Assistant District Attorney Julie Cullen said of that, Joseph Branch is not eligible for parole for the first 5 years. Branch will have to serve 85% of the remaining 2.5 years.
District Judge Mike Erwin was prepared to sentence Branch, 31, to 25 years, but suspended all but 7.5 years. He faced up to 30 years in prison. Erwin told Branch he was "lucky." His sentence was reduced only because attorney's and the victim's families agreed to the lesser term, in addition to $295,000 that Branch will pay in restitution. That money will be split between the surviving victim, Danny Morris, and the deceased victim's daughter, Kat Coburn, 8.
Branch was convicted of vehicular homicide and negligent injuring in the Jan. 21, 2012 crash that killed Nathan Crowson and put Danny Morris in the hospital for nearly a month. The two were riding bicycles on Perkins Road when they were hit.
Branch's blood alcohol content after the crash was .307, which is three times the legal limit in the state of Louisiana.
Wednesday's sentencing was the first time Branch addressed the victim's in the case. He told them, through tears, he did not mean to hurt them more through his non-remorseful actions and that he was, "Sorry from the bottom of my heart."
"He's going to jail for a long time," Morris said, after court. "That's what he's really sad about."
Morris also said he felt Branch's apology was too little, too late. "If I was going to jail for almost 10 years, I'd be begging for everyone's forgiveness too."
Morris' mother, Debbie, said she believes Branch does feel bad.
"How can someone not?" she asked. During her victim impact statement she turned to face the convicted killer, saying she wanted to see his eyes. "I wanted to see him. I had never actually been able to see him. I wanted to see if I could see something there."
The brothers and mother of Nathan Crowson, a former WAFB employee, also spoke before Branch was sentenced.
"If you lose a spouse, you're a widow. If you lose a parent, you're an orphan. There's no word for a parent who loses a child," said Crowson's mother, Rita Wise. "I'm blessed to have my other children, but nobody will ever replace Nathan."
Morris was given the opportunity to address the court in February through a victim impact statement. He also testified at the trial that because of the crash, he has constant memory problems.
"Everything hazy prior to the crash," he said. "My memory is like a computer with RAM & ROM. I can remember certain things, but it now has to be triggered."
He said before the accident, he would ride his bike for miles, skateboard, jump and do everything that is normally taken for granted. His pelvis was shattered in the crash.
Branch was convicted in October 2014. After obtaining a new defense team, a motion for a new trial was filed, but it was later withdrawn. Erwin then set March 18 as the sentencing date for Branch.