Mann case is under review

By Emily Jo Cureton, The Triplicate March 10, 2014 03:44 pm

Judge changes his mind and may reduce the sentence sentence

The judge who sentenced Coulter Mann to three years in state prison Monday changed his mind Friday, stunning the family and friends of Kenneth Jones, a victim of drunk-driving killed when Mann’s truck drifted across the center line of U.S. Highway 101 on Dec. 21, 2012. 

A new sentencing for Mann, who was convicted in February on a single charge of driving under the influence and causing great bodily injury, will be reconsidered by visiting Judge Richard P. Kalustian after the defendant spends 90 days with the California Department of Corrections.

The sentence might be lighter or stay the same, but legally it cannot exceed the original three years, according to officials with the Del Norte District Attorney’s Office

“This has never happened before in my career. It’s bizarre and very disappointing that the judge is tormenting the family like this,” Deputy District Attorney Todd Zocchi said Friday.

Mann was convicted of driving under the influence with a special enhancement for causing great bodily injury in a jury trial. Judge Kalustian of Mendocino dropped the enhancement (and its stiffer sentencing requirements) after a lengthy sentencing hearing Monday.

After listening to the Jones family, Mann, and Mann’s family, the judge decided to sentence Mann to three years in state prison, which could then be halved by successful parole.

But on Friday, Kalustian called everyone back to court four days later and announced by speakerphone that he had decided to recall the sentence on his drive home from Del Norte. 

The judge’s distant voice rattled off several penal code numbers as the Jones family visibly recoiled. 

“I don’t even know what to say,” daughter Kendra Jones gasped as she was leaving the courthouse. “This is horrible.”

California judges have the power to recall a sentence within 120 days of delivering it, though this seldom happens. 

When Zocchi asked him why he was recalling the sentence, Judge Kalustian said:

“The case was a difficult case from beginning to end and the court can use all the information it can get.”

Mann will be taken into CDCR’s custody Monday and after 90 days the facility where he is to be held will generate a recommendation for Judge Kalustian, who mentioned Friday that he has plans to be out of the country at that time. 

The CDCR report will accompany documents considered at the first sentencing, including a comparable report already prepared by the Del Norte County Probation Department, which recommended Mann be sentenced to six years in state prison. This prison term was also requested by the DA’s Office and the Jones family. 

During the original sentencing hearing, Mann’s defense counsel team, which includes his father, took issue with the way the probation  report characterized its client’s drinking habits prior to the collision.

An assistant principal at Crescent Elk Middle School at the time,  Mann collided with and killed Kenneth Jones while on his way home from a social gathering of fellow Del Norte Unified School District employees, at which he testified to drinking 60 to 75 ounces of beer, more than half of it high-alcohol content microbrews.

Mann’s attorneys have insisted that alcohol wasn’t a factor in the tragedy; that Mann was looking at his cell phone when he drifted into the wrong lane.

Mann’s blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit several hours after the crash, and was still over the legal limit early the next morning, according to three tests performed while Mann was hospitalized for a broken leg. 

Kendra Jones has initiated civil proceedings against Mann, as well as Bill Hartwick, current principal of Crescent Elk Middle School and host of the party where Mann drank before the fatal crash. 

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