Judge's Decision Has Family Outraged

Wednesday, December 10th 2008, 4:51 pm
By: News On 6

By Lori Fullbright, News On 6

UNDATED -- A widow, police and prosecutors are outraged over a judge's decision. They want to know how a man who was sent to prison for 10 years for a drunk driving crash that killed a Coweta chiropractor, got released after serving only six months.

Even though Haskell's former mayor Charley Smith was convicted of first degree manslaughter and the law says he must serve 85% of his sentence, Judge Jeff Payton decided six months was long enough.

Dr. Shawn Lee was heading back to his chiropractor's office in Coweta on October 4th, 2006 after having lunch at home with his wife, when Haskell mayor Charlie Smith, ran a stop sign and darted in front of a semi-truck.

The truck had to swerve and he hit Dr. Lee's car.

Police say Smith was so drunk; he got out and fell flat on his face. He had drank nearly a pint of vodka before the wreck.

Dr. Lee was dead.

"I feel we were just getting started. My daughters were three and one and a half at the time he died. It's totally changed our lives," said Sheila Lee.

The pre-sentence investigator said Smith shouldn't get probation, but prison time, partly because he never accepted responsibility for causing the crash and never expressed remorse.

Judge Jeff Payton sentenced Smith to 10 years in prison last May. But, on Monday the judge released Smith, he had served six months.

"He's an elected official. People will have to go back and vote for him and they need to know this is how he, this is what he thinks of people who did this," said Lee.

Sheila is especially upset, there was no hearing, no chance for her to write or speak to the judge before he decided.

The prosecutor did object, but the judge released Smith anyway.

Judge Payton told The News On 6 a big part of his decision was because Smith, who's 74, has heart disease and had two by-pass surgeries.

One surgery was 28 years ago, the other, nearly 10.

The judge says prisons aren't equipped to deal with sick, old men, even though the corrections investigator said they could meet Smith's medical needs.

The News On 6 asked Judge Payton why there was a 10 year sentence to begin with and he said, he wanted to send a message to others who might drink and drive.

So, then Payton was asked what message he was sending by releasing Smith early and he said, not a very good one, but he tried to make the best decision for all parties involved.

Except for the victims.

Payton says Smith is too sick to be a danger and if he gets caught driving or drinking, he'll be sent back to prison.

However, he did not follow recommendations to put alcohol monitoring devices in Smith's home and car.