KINGMAN - A motorist who was allegedly impaired when he killed a 17-year-old Kingman resident in a July 21 crash learned Thursday he could be sentenced to up to 36 years in prison if convicted at trial.
Or, Delbert Brechler could get no more than 15 years if he accepts an offer from the state to settle the case and avoid trial.
Brechler, 46, faces charges of manslaughter by DUI and aggravated assault by DUI in the death of Cody Raymond, who died several hours after an intoxicated Brechler allegedly rear-ended the 1990 Ford pickup Raymond was driving on Route 66 at milepost 59.
Brechler was behind the wheel of a 1998 Volvo driving at least the 55 mph limit when he struck the rear of Raymond's truck. According to the state, a blood test determined Brechler's blood alcohol concentration was 0.206. The legal limit is 0.08.
Brechler did not speak Thursday at a settlement conference in Superior Court, other than to answer questions posed by Judge Steven Conn.
The case will be adjudicated by Judge Rick Williams, but Conn conducted the settlement conference, which are held to ensure defendants understand the consequences of any plea deals that are on the table versus going to trial, potential defenses, the maximum and minimum term in prison they face if convicted and other issues.
Prosecutor Rob Albright said the state offered Brechler a term of seven to 15 years if he pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Raymond's death and five to 10 years if he also pleaded guilty to aggravated assault. The second charge regards injuries reportedly sustained by Raymond's passenger, Jesse Selder, who was 18 at the time of the crash.
Selder did not complain of injuries following the deadly wreck, said Albright, but later experienced problems with his neck and back.
Brechler was uninjured.
The key benefit of the state's offer is that the two sentences would run concurrently.
Conn advised Brechler that he could get consecutive sentences, meaning he would have to finish one term before he began the second. If given the maximum penalty, he could receive 21 years on the manslaughter charge and 15 years for aggravated assault.
To get the maximum sentences, said Conn, the state would have to show aggravating factors exist - and prosecutor Albright alleged they do. Brechler, for example, has a previous DUI conviction in the last seven years. Albright said the emotional harm the death has had on the victim's family - several were in the courtroom Thursday - was another aggravating factor that would be considered should Brechler go to trial and ultimately be convicted.
"My experience is when someone dies before their time due to a drunk driver, the family always suffers," said Conn. He said relatives take an active role in the case and even write judges letters.
Still, Conn said it is unlikely Brechler would get a total of three dozen years, saying such lengthy sentences are usually reserved for people who "deliberately" kill someone.
But the judge also said he is personally against concurrent sentencing and there is no guarantee other judges would be more lenient.
He said defendants get a "free crime" when sentenced concurrently.
"It's like telling the victims and the family they don't matter," he said.
Conn advised Brechler the state only needs to prove he was impaired when he drove recklessly and caused Raymond's death. His defense attorney did not discuss any possible defenses.
"If you think you could get less than 15 years (at trial) then you have nothing to gain" by entering a guilty plea, said Conn. "Or, you could say, 'I made a really bad decision and I caused the death of someone and I don't want to put their family through the ordeal of a trial.'
"I'm not trying to lay a guilt trip on you."
Brechler's attorney could announce his decision at a status hearing scheduled for March 14 in front of Williams.
Brechler remains free on bail.