NEW ORLEANS – The Louisiana Court of Appeals overturned a 90-year prison sentence for a drunk driver who hit nine cyclists near the March 2019 Mardi Gras parade route, killing two of them.
The State’s 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said the judge who sentenced Tashonti Tony was unable to adequately explain the reasons for the maximum sentences following Tony’s conviction. Thus, the ruling says, the appellate judges cannot properly consider Tony’s argument that the general sentence was excessive.
The ruling, dated Wednesday, sent the case back to the New Orleans Criminal Court for a commission asking for a “meaningful sentencing hearing.”
Blood tests showed that Tony was driving with blood alcohol levels above 0.21% as he raced down New Orleans’s famous Esplanade Avenue, which was filled with car, bicycle and pedestrian traffic following the popular Krewe of Endymion parade.
Traveling at speeds as high as 80 miles per hour (nearly 130 km per hour), Tony occasionally swerved onto the bike path, sending bicycles and their riders flying, as court records show. Authorities said he hit other vehicles and ended up colliding with another vehicle before stopping in the middle section of the road. He escaped, but, according to court records, he was pursued and held by witnesses until the police arrived.
The two killed are Sharri Walls, 27, from New Orleans, and David Hines, 31, a Seattle citizen and Tulane Law School graduate who was a guest during Mardi Gras.
The two died near where the Endymion parade had just taken place, an annual spectacle of huge, brightly lit platforms and marching bands. Witnesses said at the time that the festive scene had turned into a scene of bedlam and massacre as passers-by tried to provide first aid to the victims.
In October 2019, Tony pleaded guilty to 16 counts, including two counts of car murder, each with a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. His plea agreement did not contain a sentencing agreement.
Following a hearing with emotional testimony from relatives of those killed and some of the wounded, Judge Laurie White’s verdict included a maximum of 30 years in prison for each count of negligent homicide and six maximum five-year sentences for vehicle negligence injury. to the conclusion of the court of appeal. While White ordered some of the other convictions to be served at the same time, Tony’s total sentence was more than 90 consecutive years, 60 of which without parole.
“Of course, the pain and suffering caused by the actions of the defendant deserves a harsh punishment in the form of imprisonment,” reads the ruling of the appellate court. “This court also recognizes that retribution and deterrence are worthy considerations in sentencing a case like this.”
But the conclusion also noted that the 90-plus-year sentence was, in fact, life imprisonment for 34-year-old Tony. It said that the trial court must hold a hearing at which Tony’s lawyers can present evidence. The court must then state the reasons if it again imposes the maximum sentence on each count and requires that all sentences be served sequentially.