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Crist will decide fate of woman convicted in fatal crash

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist will decide whether to grant clemency to a woman serving a 16 years for her role in a 1998 crash near Ybor City that killed one of her passengers and severely injured the other.

The state's clemency board, which consists of Crist and the Cabinet, heard Jennifer Martin's plea Thursday at the request of Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who has championed Martin's case since reading about it in the St. Petersburg Times.

"There was some compelling evidence," Sink said after the hearing.

In April 1998, Martin, from Lakeland, was speeding on Interstate 4 near Ybor City and lost control of her car. The crash killed passenger Josh Nicola and severely injured Scott Schutt.

Toxicology reports showed the 23-year-old men had alcohol in their systems well beyond the limit at which the law considers a driver impaired. Martin, 18, had no alcohol in her system.

In 2000, Martin was convicted of manslaughter by culpable negligence and sentenced to 16 years in prison. She has served eight.

At the hearing, Sink said the sentence was "excessively harsh."

A victim's advocate read a letter from the mother of Nicola, the young man killed in the crash: "I cannot explain how much I miss Josh," Janice Stevens wrote. "The pain is not less than when it happened. ... I rely on the system to make a decision about clemency."

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."

Sink recommended to the governor that Martin serve out the remaining eight years of her term on probation.

Crist said he would "take the information under advisement" and make a decision. "I want to have the opportunity to review it further and give it more consideration before rendering an opinion," he said.

Sink said the testimony led her to believe Martin deserved a commutation.

"It was a terrible tragedy for all concerned," she said.

Times staff writer John Frank contributed to this report.

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Crist will decide fate of woman convicted in fatal crash 12/10/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 11, 2009 12:18am]
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