Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Jennifer Martin to walk free Wednesday after state clemency board cuts sentence in half

Jennifer Martin got a call from the director of clemency in Tallahassee on Tuesday.

Stephen Hebert said to her, "Has anyone told you what happened?"

"No," she said.

And then he told her: "You've received a full commutation of your sentence. You're free and clear tomorrow. No probation. The board really wants you to succeed."

In a rare move, Gov. Charlie Crist, the former attorney general known as "Chain Gang Charlie," commuted Martin's 16-year sentence. Sometime today, Martin, now 30, will walk out of Hillsborough Correctional Institution, free for the first time in eight years. It is only the second time since becoming governor that Crist has commuted a sentence.

"God has done exceedingly more than I could have hoped for," Martin said Tuesday. "I am so thankful."

Martin was convicted of manslaughter by culpable negligence after she was speeding on Interstate 4 near Ybor City in April 1998 and lost control of the car. One of Martin's passengers, Josh Nicola, 23, was killed. Another, Scott Schutt, 23, was severely injured. Martin, who was 18 at the time of the crash, had no alcohol in her system.

In April, Alex Sink, Florida's chief financial officer, read an article in the St. Petersburg Times about Martin's case and requested the clemency hearing.

At that hearing in Tallahassee on Thursday, Martin's prosecutor, Paul Duval Johnson, said that Martin was not drinking, but that her two passengers were "inebriated" and "chose not to wear their seat belts."

Out of sympathy for the victims and their families, he said, he had vigorously prosecuted the case. But, he said, he believed the sentence was "too harsh," and he asked the clemency board to show mercy for Martin.

Nicola's mother did not urge the board to vote one way or the other. But she did write that while Martin "chose to risk her own life ... she had no right to risk the lives of others."

After the commutation was announced Tuesday, Alex Sink said that "despite the tragedy for the victims and their families," the prosecutor's request for mercy was "what was most important" in convincing the clemency board to release Martin eight years into her sentence.

Sink said the length of the original sentence also influenced the decision. Sink called it "excessive."

To win release, three of the four board members — which include Crist, Sink, Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson and State Attorney General Bill McCollum — had to vote to release Martin. And, one of those three had to be Crist. As it turned out, the vote was unanimous.

"Commutations are very, very rare, and we take them very seriously but something had gone awry here," Sink said. "That's why we have a clemency board — to right such wrongs."

"There are many victims here," said Sink, "among them, Martin's 9-year-old son who has had to grow up without his mother."

When Martin's parents pick her up at the prison today, Johnson, her prosecutor, plans to be waiting outside the razor wire.

"I want her to know how happy I am for her," he said.

Jennifer Martin to walk free Wednesday after state clemency board cuts sentence in half 12/15/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 11:29pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tiger Woods says medication, not alcohol, led to DUI arrest in Florida

    Public Safety

    Players arriving for a tournament this week at Muirfield Village might notice a framed picture of Tiger Woods with a resplendent smile and bright red shirt. He's posed there with the trophy, an image that embodies the excitement he once brought to golf.

    This image provided by the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office on Monday, May 29, 2017, shows Tiger Woods. Police in Florida say Tiger Woods was been arrested for DUI.  [Palm Beach County Sheriff's office via AP]
  2. Manuel Noriega, Panamanian strongman toppled in U.S. invasion, dies at 83

    Obituaries

    Gen. Manuel Noriega, the Panamanian strongman and onetime American ally who was toppled from power in a 1989 U.S. invasion and who spent more than two decades imprisoned on drug dealing and conspiracy convictions, died late Monday. He was most likely 83.

    Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega waves to newsmen after a state council meeting, at the presidential palace in Panama City, where they announced the new president of the republic in 1989. Panama's ex-dictator Noriega died Monday, May 29, 2017, in a hospital in Panama City. He was 83. [Associated Press]
  3. Austin Mahone talks Pitbull, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, his pop evolution and more

    Blogs

    Austin Mahone has vivid memories from his childhood visits to see his grandparents in Tampa Bay.

  4. Motorcyclist killed in Pinellas Park crash, prompting road closures

    Accidents

    A motorcyclist was killed early Tuesday morning when he left the roadway and possibly struck a parked vehicle in Pinellas Park.

  5. Meet the five finalists for St. Petersburg College president

    College

    ST. PETERSBURG — In the last month, five finalists for the job of St. Petersburg College president have taken campus tours and answered questions from students, faculty and staff.

    The Douglas L. Jamerson, Jr., Midtown Center of St. Petersburg College, opened in 2015, is considered a major accomplishment by outgoing SPC president William Law. [SOPHIA NAHLI  ALLISON  |   TIMES]