Woman to be sentenced as juvenile in Ecstasy death; family 'appalled'
Danielle McCarthy's parents heard something different in a courtroom on Wednesday.
"Danielle's life, in the state of Washington, is worth zero to 30 days. I would have died for her," the teen's mother, Lisa McCarthy, said. "For this to be the end result, I'm appalled. I'm appalled by the way we've been treated."
The Puyallup teenager who gave McCarthy, 16, Ecstasy and stood by as the drug ended the girl's life, could escape spending any time in jail after a ruling handed down Wednesday in Snohomish County Superior Court.
A judge ordered that Donalydia Huertas, 18, be sentenced in juvenile court in the 2007 overdose death. A jury convicted Huertas in June of controlled substance homicide and second-degree manslaughter.
Huertas provided McCarthy with Ecstasy during a night of partying between Puyallup, Seattle and Edmonds. She discouraged other partygoers to summon medical aid for McCarthy, who showed signs of overdosing for hours. McCarthy was eventually taken to Stevens Hospital in Edmonds, where doctors determined she had died.
Although she was tried and convicted in adult court, Huertas got a break on punishment because of the jury's verdict and her age at the time of the crime.
Huertas could have faced nearly six years in prison. Under juvenile rules, her standard sentence could be between zero and 30 days in juvenile detention.
Superior Court Judge Ellen Fair told Huertas that the teen showed lack of judgment and stupidity the night McCarthy died. The judge also said she believes there is likelihood that Huertas can be rehabilitated.
"I think Ms. Huertas is on the road to recognizing her responsibility in the whole sad state of affairs," Fair said.
Huertas, who remains free on bail, is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 25.
Co-defendant David Morris, 21, who sold the Ecstasy to Huertas, pleaded guilty to controlled substance homicide in November. He was sentenced to nearly five years in prison. Under a drug-offender alternative sentence, he will be allowed to spend about half his sentence seeking drug treatment outside prison.
Snohomish County prosecutors say they will ask that Huertas be locked up until she is 21. They argued that a regular juvenile sentence would be a manifest injustice.
"The fact that she's shown no remorse, not even a hint that she's done anything wrong, makes her a danger to the community," Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Coleen St. Clair said.
She argued that a sentence in the juvenile system wouldn't provide time enough to protect the community. Huertas won't be required to be supervised by the state Department of Corrections under juvenile sentencing, St. Clair said.
Huertas' attorney Wayne Fricke said his client is remorseful and working hard to make amends. Huertas underwent drug and alcohol counseling and continues to see a mental health provider, he said.
"She's climbing up the ladder. We should applaud that," Fricke said.
Prosecutors initially charged Huertas in juvenile court with controlled substance homicide. The case was moved to adult court after plea negotiations broke down and Huertas was charged with first-degree manslaughter. That offense automatically sent the case to adult court.
The jury could not agree on first-degree manslaughter charge. Instead, they convicted Huertas of the lesser second-degree manslaughter charge. That crime on its own was not serious enough to keep the case in adult court.
Huertas was 17 at the time she gave Ecstasy to McCarthy. She turns 19 today .
The juvenile court considers a number of factors in its decision to decline jurisdiction, including the protection of the community and the likelihood the offender can be rehabilitated in the juvenile detention system.
St. Clair on Wednesday argued that Huertas committed a serious crime that cost a girl her life, yet Huertas had engaged in a campaign to portray herself as the victim. She and her friends harassed witnesses to the point one girl was forced to get a protection order against Huertas, St. Clair said.
Huertas left messages on McCarthy's MySpace page denying that she did anything wrong the night her classmate overdosed on Ecstasy, St. Clair said.
Huertas wrote to McCarthy's family, telling them she gave up her own partying that night to help their daughter, court documents said. She chastised McCarthy's family for casting blame, prosecutors wrote.
"Sorry if any of this hurts but put yourself in my shoes. You and your family have put me through hell and I am still here cause I know Danielle has been with me," Huertas allegedly wrote online. "She told me to brush it off cause ONE day they will realize they were wrong."
Fricke dismissed the bulk of the online postings, saying they were not directly written by Huertas but by people she knew. Huertas couldn't be held responsible for the actions of others, he said.
Fricke said Huertas was the target of a smear campaign since McCarthy's death. She was forced to leave school and was harassed. Huertas was working at a restaurant when someone threw red wine on her and called her a murderer, he said. She has attempted suicide, according to testimony Wednesday.
Fair said she had to balance the proven facts of the crime against the emotions surrounding a young person's death.
While the e-mail exchanges between Huertas and her friends are disturbing and offensive, Fair said she believes Huertas is sorry for McCarthy's death.
The judge also said she understands Patrick and Lisa McCarthy's desire to see Huertas receive the maximum sentence.
Patrick and Lisa McCarthy said the judge had an opportunity to send a strong message to young people about the consequences of drug use. Instead, Wednesday's decision only shows that there's no real punishment, Patrick McCarthy said.
"I believe today's decision wasn't right," he said. "It's putting all kids in jeopardy."
Despite the decision, the McCarthys say they will continue to bring attention to the crime of controlled substance homicide -- for their daughter.
"If there's an overdose death, someone is guilty," Patrick McCarthy said.
Reporter Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463 or email@example.com.
Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.