Justice is once again delayed for two families who have lost their loved ones in a fatal car crash. This is a case that has been dragging on for four years. The victim's families showed up in court today, expecting a sentencing hearing, but that is not what happened.
In a surprising move to both defense attorneys and prosecutors, the judge decided to withdraw himself from the case.
The case involves suspect Collin Reeves. Attorneys representing the victims' families said in 2018, Reeves drove at a high rate of speed under the influence of alcohol and crashed into a car that was making a left turn.
Audrianne Dillard, Jesel Torres and their dog were killed in that crash. Another woman driving a separate car was injured.
The judge said he had talked to many people and spent a lot of time thinking about the case. He stated he had worked as a public defender and represented many defendants in DUI cases during his career. Upon recusing himself, the judge stated "this court's intention to reject the plea. I find it is not in the interest of justice, not appropriate in the circumstances of this case.
A defense attorney asked the judge to clarify the reasons he had rejected the plea, but the judge simply stated that he was withdrawing from the case so it would not be handled by someone else.
"Ultimately it's my decision and I'm going to reject the plea," said the judge.
Families and their attorneys welcomed this news, saying they had not been in favor of the plea deal and its terms and had voiced their concerns to prosecutors.
Shannon Dillard, Audrianne's mother said she believed a reckless endangerment charge for the death of two people and a dog, with just probation, was not sufficient for the crime.
"Our rights and our children's rights have been disregarded to such an extreme extent," said Dillard.
"Our county attorney has not represented us as victims. He's represented the other party more than us," she added.
A Maricopa County Attorney's Office spokesperson told ABC15 they could not comment on pending cases, but in the past, they have explained why Reeves was not charged with manslaughter. Prosecutors said the lack of witnesses made it difficult to determine who entered the intersection first, and they did not have enough evidence to get a conviction in the case.
As to why Reeves was not even charged with a DUI, prosecutors admit to dropping the ball on that. During an interview in 2019, a county spokeswoman told ABC15 "unfortunately there was an oversight, a gross oversight by our prosecutor. That charge did not get filed."
The statute of limitations to file the DUI charges had expired.
Since then, the prosecutor's office has reassessed how they look at all DUI cases and put checks and balances in place to notify them before the statute of limitation deadline approaches, to act on pending cases.
Families are hopeful that the county attorney's office will go back to the drawing board and come back with more serious charges with stiffer penalties that they say fit the seriousness of the crime, before presenting another plea agreement to a new judge who will soon be appointed in this case.
"If you continue to not hold people accountable, you're saying it's okay to kill people in the process. Then why do we have laws? Our kids mattered," said Dillard.