Dan and Doral Harris told a judge Wednesday that a deal offered to the man responsible for their son's death was a miscarriage of justice.
"Accountability teaches us lessons, and it protects us," Dan Harris said. "This plea does not hold (Daniel Robbins) accountable. He has no conscience."
District Judge Paul McLimans agreed with the Harrises. The judge refused to accept the plea agreement hammered out between defense attorney Charles Feldmann and prosecutor Dan Edwards. He ordered them to go to work on a new plea agreement or let Robbins plead not guilty and proceed to trial.
Robbins was arrested in June after he lost control of the 2005 Dodge Viper he was driving on Colorado Highway 9 south of Kremmling and struck a guardrail, killing 22-year-old Jeffery Harris of Clark. Colorado State Patrol reports indicate Robbins was driving 80 to 90 mph.
In a tense and emotional Grand County courtroom Thursday, McLimans listened as Dan and Doral Harris and their family friend Tom Williams pleaded with McLimans to reject the plea offer in the case. Dan Harris and Williams read statements illustrating the family's position concerning the plea that was offered to Robbins, formerly of Clark.
"We are asking you to not approve this plea," Williams said. "It is completely inappropriate for the nature of the crime and for the lack of remorse Daniel Robbins has shown since Jeffery Harris died."
Since Robbins' arrest, the family says Robbins has shown no remorse nor offered any financial assistance to Jeffery Harris' toddler daughter, Jessa, or Jessa's mother, Kelly Hisey.
In October, Edwards, Grand County's chief deputy district attorney, offered Robbins, represented by Steamboat Springs attorney Feldmann, a plea that the Harrises called a "slap in the face."
Robbins agreed to plead guilty to vehicular homicide, a Class 4 felony, and speeding greater than 25 mph above the posted limit, a Class 2 misdemeanor.
In exchange, Robbins would be sentenced to supervised probation, a $300 fine, 300 hours of community service, writing a letter of sincere apology to the victim's family, completing a safe driving course, and paying for advertisements in newspapers in Routt and Grand counties apologizing for Harris' loss of life.
Williams, who is Jessa Harris' grandfather, said the stipulations of the plea were meaningless and that the deal did not address the family's main concern: Robbins being allowed to operate a motor vehicle in the future.
"He doesn't need to complete a safe driving course. He knows how to drive. He should have been a race driver," he said. "Dan Robbins had eight prior speeding convictions. His actions were a willing and demonstrated continuous disrespect for the law."
Williams told McLimans that the family has lost a "son, brother and father," and that he couldn't live with himself if he didn't fight as vehemently as possible to have the plea rejected.
"There are days (Jessa) asks me why she doesn't have a father. One of these days, she'll want to know everything that happened. I want to be able to look at her and tell her we did everything today to bring her justice," he said.
Edwards said it is difficult for a parent to lose a child, but he told McLimans that his job is to argue the law. Edwards said the plea agreement was based on precedent and that it was typical of prior speeding-related cases that caused an accidental death.
Edwards then recommended McLimans accept the plea.
Feldmann opted not to comment, saying only that he agreed with the plea.
McLimans told the Harrises he could understand their grief but that he had a responsibility to find the middle ground between both sides of the story.
McLimans then told the courtroom he was disturbed by a statement Robbins made to probation officers claiming to still have an addiction to speed, even after Harris's death. "It does appear to me (Robbins) has a fatal attraction to the thrill of speed. I feel like this disposition does not go far enough down the road to protect the public," he said.
Based on those feelings, McLimans rejected the plea.
Feldmann said that he and Robbins were not entirely shocked by the judge's decision.
"We knew that the court would have concerns with the issue of ensuring that (Robbins) cannot operate a motor vehicle anytime soon. (Robbins) has been extremely remorseful and has never driven once since the day of the accident, and will not seek to drive in any manner anytime soon," Feldmann said.
McLimans told counsel he is hopeful the next step in the case will be taken on or before March 30, the next time Robbins is scheduled to appear in court.
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