A Williamsburg woman opted to take a plea agreement Wednesday morning that calls for her to receive a 25-year prison sentence rather than stand trial for murder in connection with a fatal July 2016 traffic crash that killed Teresa Bennett.
Sonia Askins, 47, was scheduled to be tried Wednesday on charges of murder, leaving the scene of an accident, operating a motor vehicle while under the influence, tampering with physical evidence, fourth-degree assault and first-degree wanton endangerment.
As part of the plea agreement, Askins’ murder charge was reduced to second-degree manslaughter, and the fourth-degree assault charge was dismissed.
Prosecutors recommended a 10-year prison sentence on the manslaughter charge, and five-year prison sentences on the leaving the scene of an accident, tampering with physical evidence and wanton endangerment charges. The sentences were recommended to be run consecutively, or one after the other, for a total sentence of 25 years.
Askins will also receive a 30-day jail sentence on the DUI charge, which by law will be served at the same time as her prison time.
Askins will be eligible for parole after serving about 20 percent of her sentence.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Allen Trimble, who was the prosecutor in the case, noted that Bennett’s widow and mother were both in agreement with the plea deal.
Teresa Bennett’s mother, Kathy Kimberlin, could be heard crying in the courtroom as Askins entered her plea Wednesday.
“I spent a lot of time explaining the good points that we had and the bad points we had to deal with in the case. They were pleased with the plea agreement,” Trimble said. “Many times victim’s families are pleased just to get it over with. The benefit of the plea is there is no appeal. They waive their right of appeal.”
“Every time we try somebody and convict them, the appeals will last two or three years before it is final. Regardless of whether they have a chance or not to get the case reversed, families are always on edge when that happens. We avoided that in this particular case and still got a significant sentence.”
The plea agreement calls for any restitution to be set at the time of sentencing, which Whitley Circuit Judge Dan Ballou set for April 2.
Askins has been incarcerated in the Whitley County Detention Center since March 14, 2017, when she failed a drug test that Ballou ordered during a court hearing that day.
Ballou pointed out to her Wednesday that six months of the time she has already served in jail won’t count towards her 25-year prison sentence because it was a contempt of court sentence for failing the drug test last March.
Askins remains in jail pending her formal sentencing hearing.
“She thinks it’s a fair resolution,” said Sandra Reeves, one of Askins’ attorneys, about the plea agreement.
Both Reeves and Trimble agreed that the 25-year prison sentence is consistent with what they think a jury would have sentenced Askins to had she been tried.
“When devising a plea offer, we try to get something that we think a jury would give. 25 years is a big sentence,” Trimble noted.
On July 25, 2016, Askins was allegedly driving a 2004 Suzuki Forenza south on Ky. 895 when she crossed the centerline of the roadway and struck Teresa and Joshua Bennett of Williamsburg, who were walking south in the northbound lane.
Whitley County Coroner Andy Croley pronounced Teresa Bennett dead at the scene. Joshua Bennett was taken by ambulance to Baptist Health Corbin where he was treated and released.
After the crash, Askins left the scene of the accident without rendering aid, but later returned.
Askins allegedly told police that after she struck the pedestrians she drove beside them and asked if they were OK. When a detective asked her why she left the scene, she responded that she was in shock, her arrest citation stated.
Askins’ boyfriend reportedly told her to return to the accident scene.
KSP Trooper Delzie Kelly, who investigated the crash, testified during a 2016 preliminary hearing that Askins admitted to having a shot of moonshine and taking Oxycodone earlier in the day before the crash.