Make us your home page

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

  1. My AP Top 25 ballot: FSU out, USF, Florida Gators back in


    Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher still thinks he can have a good team, as I wrote in today's Tampa Bay Times. Maybe he's right.

  2. Forecast: Scattered thunderstorms in Tampa Bay; Maria could affect Carolinas


    Scattered thunderstorms will threaten the Tampa Bay area Sunday, but most of the area will see sunshine.

    Scattered thunderstorms threaten Tampa Bay on Sunday. [Courtesy 10News WTSP]
  3. Trump tweets and NFL response escalate drama of Sunday games


    The owners of the Baltimore Ravens, the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and other teams on Sunday joined a chorus of NFL executives criticizing President Donald Trump's suggestion that they fire players who kneel for the national anthem.

    President Donald Trump walks off the stage after he speaks at campaign rally in support of Sen. Luther Strange, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Huntsville, Ala. [Associated Press]
  4. Rays Journal: Duda home run sets Rays record


    BALTIMORE -- With one swing of the bat, Rays DH/1B Lucas Duda broke a team record and tied a personal mark in Saturday's game against the Orioles that was not complete at press time.

    Lucas Duda, right, watches his three-run home run against the Orioles.
  5. Brooksville motorcyclist crashes into pole, dies


    BROOKSVILLE — A motorcyclist crashed into a utility pole and died Saturday evening, the Florida Highway Patrol reported.