TERRE HAUTE —
“It’s very hard to find what justice should be,” said Vigo County Judge Michael Rader after listening to two hours of emotional testimony Monday in the case of Travis Ley, a Terre Haute man convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs and causing the death of one young man and serious injuries to another.
Looking over a courtroom filled with friends of family of Leylahnd Owens — the young man who was killed — Rader sentenced Ley to 12 years in prison in the Indiana Department of Correction and five years of supervised release. He is also to pay $5,000 in restitution.
A jury in October found Ley guilty of driving under the influence when he collided with Owens and Jacob Quinn, who were riding motorcycles on Hulman Street when the fatal crash took place in May of 2012. Monday was the sentencing hearing, and both sides, the defense and prosecution, were given time to plead their cases.
The court on Monday heard testimony from Leylahnd Owens’ mother, Malissa, and his sisters, Erica and Maleyke. They said their lives have been shattered by the loss of their son and brother, whom they described as having a big smile, a fun-loving personality and a strong desire to help others.
Speaking after the sentencing hearing, Erica Owens, Leylahnd’s older sister, said the jail term handed down by Rader was longer than she feared it might be, “but [the loss of her brother] still hurts.”
“I think he should have gotten more,” said Maleyke Owens, Leylahnd’s younger sister, of Ley’s sentence.
During the hearing, prosecutors played portions of recorded telephone conversations from the Vigo County Jail between Ley and his mother and a friend. Prosecutors said the conversations showed a lack of remorse. In one, Ley complained of not having had a beer in several days.
Given his chance to speak, Ley, wearing handcuffs, said he was “wearing a mask” during those phone calls. The mask was to put his family at ease and to avoid showing stress to other inmates in the jail, he said. In a written statement, Ley said he was “very remorseful over the loss of Leylahnd’s life” and said he would like to tell the victim’s family everything that happened that day.
In handing down his sentence, which could have reached 23 years, Rader invoked the ancient philosophers Socrates and Plato and the modern thinker John Rawls. Determining what is “justice” is not easy, he said. However, in the end, he believed Ley had failed to show genuine remorse and had violated the terms of a recent work release order by consuming beer. On the other hand, Rader said, Ley lacks a “significant criminal history,” cooperated with investigators, is a military veteran and has a child, age 12.
Nevertheless, Rader said all of the factors against Ley outweighed those in his favor.
Malissa Owens, Leylahnd’s mother, speaking after the hearing, seemed a little surprised when she said the sentence didn’t seem to bring her a sense of “closure.” The loss of her son is something she’ll always feel, she said.
“It’ll never go away,” Malissa Owens said. “Every special occasion is just going to be minus one.”
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@trib
Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza
12 years in prison: Travis Ley (above) is led back to the Vigo County Jail after he was sentenced on Monday in the Vigo County Courthouse. At left, Malissa Owens, the mother of the late Leylahnd Owens, discusses how she feels about Ley’s sentence on Monday in the courthouse. With her is Wesley Owens.