The sentence was stayed pending appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Defense attorney James Howaniec was unsure whether the defense team would appeal the sentence.
“My client has a certain level of relief,” Howaniec said. “An 18-month sentence is something she could survive.”
In a packed Oxford County Superior courtroom, friends and family of crash victims Rebecca Mason, 16, and Logan Dam, 19, both of West Paris, tearfully urged the court to “send a message” in sentencing Lowe for double manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident. Witnesses testified at trial that Lowe had been been drinking at a party before she crashed her car on Route 219 in West Paris in January 2012.
Lowe, 21, of Oxford was convicted in May of vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident. She faced up to 30 years in prison for each manslaughter conviction and another five years for leaving the scene.
The prosecution had recommended a 10-year sentence, with all but five years suspended. The defense asked for a suspended sentence, with a requirement for Lowe to do community service by talking with teens about her experience.
Active-Retired Justice Robert Clifford on Wednesday set the base sentence at eight years for each manslaughter conviction and four years for leaving the scene of the accident, with three years of probation. He suspended all but 18 months.
Clifford said he had never seen a case more unusual, with factors aggravating the sentence offset by those mitigating it. While Lowe had no criminal history, has strived to improve herself, appeared truly remorseful for her actions and was unlikely to reoffend, she sped with alcohol and marijuana in her system, glanced at an incoming text, and left two young people dead and their families ripped apart.
“Although the court is persuaded that a long sentence would not be consistent with the overall purposes of sentencing … the court is convinced these events require some period of incarceration,” he said.
Howaniec said with good behavior his client’s prison time could shrink to a year.
Sobbing uncontrollably, her words incomprehensible, Lowe talked about the incident publicly for the first time at the sentencing Wednesday.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t look at my child and remember theirs are dead,” Lowe said.
Lowe is in a relationship with a man she met in Virginia after the crash, and they have a daughter who is almost a year old. He is serving overseas in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Jerrold Mason, Rebecca’s father, said he was disappointed with the sentence.
“This is a bitter pill to swallow,” Mason said. “I’ve lost my faith in the Maine judicial system. Looks like they’re sending the message that if you kill two kids and then get knocked up, you can get away with it.”
Mason added, “After 18 months she’ll get to see her daughter again. I have to wake up every morning without mine. I hope she lives to 150 and wakes up every night with nightmares.”
In making his statement, Mason held up a large photo of his daughter and talked about how proud he was of her, and how lucky his family was to have had her in their lives.
Since her death, he said, he has struggled to work and has been unable to help his wife with her grief in the way he would like.
“I will never be the same person,” he said. “Our family has been ripped apart by her cowardly actions,” he said, looking at Lowe.
“I have worked very hard to pass anti-texting laws because of what you have stolen from me,” he said. “Damn you for wrecking my life.”
Mason cried silently a few feet behind his sister during the proceedings, her face red and wet with tears, as she held aloft a photo of Rebecca smiling and surrounded by her family.
“I feel like we’re going through the burial again,” Jeanne Grover told the court.
Deb Sande, Dam’s mother, told Clifford that she struggles every day with the loss of her son, whom she called her best friend.
In making her impact statement before the court, Mason’s mother, Tracie Mason, talked directly to Lowe, who declined Mason’s request to turn and look at her. Tracie Mason said her daughter was a talented artist, an adept student and a dedicated athlete. Above all, Mason said, her daughter “had a beautiful soul.”
Mason said her grief had turned her into a “monster.” Finding herself reluctant to forgive Lowe, who continued to stare straight ahead, sobbing, she said she was unable to comprehend why she never sought help on her mile trek from the accident back to the party.
She asked Lowe to imagine her own daughter injured in an accident and left to die.
Mason said that in the days immediately after the Jan. 7, 2012, accident, she tried to be understanding, believing the deaths were an accident. But, she said, as the investigation continued and she learned the details, she got increasingly angry. She said she was bothered by Lowe’s lack of remorse or willingness to accept responsibility for the fatal accident.
Howaniec asked the court not to consider the lack of public remorse because he had instructed his client to remain silent except during court proceedings. If there was blame for lack of remorse, Howaniec asked the court to blame him, not his client.
Mason and Dam were back-seat passengers when Lowe lost control of her Subaru Impreza and crashed it into a stand of trees. Lowe, then 18, and her front-seat passenger, 22-year-old Jacob Skaff, suffered broken backs, among other injuries. After the crash, they walked about a mile back to a party they had been at earlier in the evening, leaving Mason and Dam in the car. According to court testimony, they walked past 24 houses but did not stop to ask anyone to call for help.
Howaniec argued that Lowe’s failure to stop at a nearby house or to call for help was due to shock from the accident and the injuries she sustained.
Family and friends of Lowe told the court she was a generous friend and a devoted mother whose child would be irreversibly affected if deprived of her mother.
Melissa Stanley, Kristina’s mother, told the court that her daughter’s bright future was shattered by the events, only for a light to rekindle with the birth of her daughter. Lowe’s father, Earl Lowe, was not in the courtroom.
Assistant District Attorney Joseph O’Connor said granting Lowe leniency would ignore the gravity of her actions and risk sending the message that her actions were tolerated by society.
“No one else in this courtroom is responsible for what she did,” O’Connor said. “Even if the court adopts the state’s recommendation in its entirety, Kristina Lowe will still see her daughter … (Lowe) is not the victim in this case.”