Sunday, June 5, 2011

Playboy's 'blood money' deal with British widows to dodge jail

A millionaire playboy who struck and killed two British businessmen while racing his Porsche at over 100mph along a Florida beachfront has avoided prison after cutting an extraordinary 'blood money' deal with his victims' widows.

Prosecutors had asked for a jail sentence of at least 10 years for Ryan LeVin, who hit Craig Elford, 39, and Kenneth Watkinson, 48, as they walked to their hotel after a night out.

“He needs to go to prison. He needs to be penalised for his actions,” prosecutor Stefanie Newman told a court in Fort Lauderdale.

Instead, at the urging of his victims’ families, the 36-year-old heir to a jewellery sales empire will spend two years under house arrest at his parents’ ocean-front apartment, after the judge agreed to spare him prison time in exchange for paying restitution. In a letter to Judge Barbara McCarthy, Mr Elford’s widow, Claire, wrote: “My girls and I need closure. We need security both emotionally and financially.”

Her daughters were aged just four weeks and three years at the time of the hit-and-run incident in 2009.

Mr Watkinson’s widow Kirsty, a mother of three, wrote: “We have been living in uncertainty and financial need. We need closure so we can start to move on.”

Both letters were read out at LeVin’s sentencing hearing.

Lawyers for the two women, who reasoned that if LeVin was sent to jail they would not receive a settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit they had filed against him, collected cheques for undisclosed sums from his attorney.

“The need for restitution does outweigh the need for prison,” Judge McCarthy said.

LeVin chewed gum during the hearing, offered no apology and, through his lawyer, requested the return of his $120,000 (£73,000) Porsche 911 Turbo, impounded after it was found dumped on a motorway ramp. It still bears the dents and smashed windscreen caused when it hit the Britons. The judge told him to spit out his gum and look at pictures of his victims’ bodies. “These pictures are horrific,” she said, adding: “I would like to hear something from him.”

Flushing, LeVin said: “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about this. I feel complete shame and compassion for the victims… my heart goes out to them. I would just like to say it’s a nightmare.”

LeVin is heir to Jewels by Park Lane, which has an estimated annual income of $155 million. He has a history of drug convictions, more than 50 motoring violations, and at the time of the incident was on probation for a 2006 car chase that left one police officer and two other motorists injured.

Mr Elford, of Ratley, Oxfordshire, and Mr Watkinson, of Harbury, Warwickshire, had arrived in Fort Lauderdale just hours before their deaths. Both were directors of a pharmaceutical company, Ingala Healthcare, of Stratford, and were on a recruitment drive. They were 50 yards from their hotel when LeVin tore along the street while trying to outpace a BMW in an illegal drag race at 2.30am. The two men were hurled through the air after LeVin’s Porsche mounted the pavement and then swerved back on to the road without stopping, clocking speeds of more than 100mph in a 30mph zone.

He was spotted by police roaring through traffic lights, but dumped the car and fled. Until Friday’s hearing, he had claimed that a friend had been behind the wheel but a deal was struck by which he pleaded guilty to fleeing the scene of an accident and two counts of vehicular homicide.

He was sentenced to two years of house arrest, barred from driving for life, and ordered to do 1,000 hours of community service. Under Florida law, victims’ families are able to urge leniency for defendants. It means they can avoid lengthy civil law suits to extract compensation from criminals.

LeVin will be confined to one of his parents’ two apartments in Point of Americas, a complex overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and a private beach. He can leave the property to attend church and to exercise, allowing him to use amenities including two pools and three fitness centres.

Jonathan Pavsner, the Florida-based lawyer for Kirsty Watkinson and her family, said that keeping LeVin out of prison had been a dilemma, but that it had achieved important goals, including keeping him off the roads for life, while forcing a guilty plea and financial acknowledgment of his crime.

“What’s important to the family is that he admitted guilt and, secondly, that he will never drive again,” he said. “They did have to weigh it, but in any criminal or civil case there is no such thing as a sure thing. You can’t speak of it as if they gave up the certainty of Ryan LeVin being convicted and serving many years in prison, but they got the best balance that they could of punishment and restitution, together with the certitude and the ability to move on with their lives.”

The sentence drew condemnation for amounting to “chequebook justice” and was branded an “outrage” by Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.

“There should not be a single person in our community that is not offended by the fact that it is clear you can buy justice in Broward County. Our clients in similar situations, in every case, go to prison for substantial periods of time,” he complained to the Chicago Tribune.

Former federal prosecutor and University of Florida law professor Michael Seigel said: “It is an unbelievably light sentence. It is very disturbing.”

LeVin had indicated that he would only plead guilty and pay up if he was allowed a non-custodial sentence.

His attorney stated in court documents: “The wives and children of the deceased were significantly and permanently impacted by this incident, and they have indicated … that there exists a great necessity for restitution which the defendant can, and will, make, if permitted a sentence devoid of incarceration.”

No comments:

Post a Comment