For the record.
Kelly Miller, left, and girlfriend Kellyn Griffin enter the Humboldt County Courthouse in September. File photo/The Eureka Reporter
Iraq War veteran receives 5-day sentence for 2006 DUI crash
A decorated war veteran from Eureka received a controversial sentence Thursday for a 2006 DUI car crash that left him and his girlfriend with serious injuries.
Kelly Miller, 24, was sentenced to five days in jail — the minimum allowed by law, according to Judge Dale Reinholtsen, who imposed the sentence despite objections from the victim’s parents.
But the judge also sentenced Miller to four years of probation, the terms of which include 800 hours of community service, fines in excess of $3,000 and the payment of financial restitution.
In imposing the sentence, Reinholtsen said he weighed a number of factors, including Miller’s distinguished record of military service.
The College of the Redwoods student served two tours of duty in Iraq and was injured in both. He was awarded the Purple Heart, and his squad leader, Cpl. Jason Dunham, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor — the nation’s highest military award for valor — when he fell on a grenade and saved Miller’s life.
But it was Miller’s third near-death experience that landed him in court and even on the front page of The Wall Street Journal.
Michael Phillips, a TWSJ reporter who had been embedded with Dunham and Miller’s unit in Iraq, wrote about Miller’s struggle with “the guilt of making it home alive,” and described the high-speed DUI crash that left the young soldier with a broken shoulder blade, shoulder socket, nose and front tooth.
Miller’s girlfriend, then 21-year-old Kellyn Griffin, sustained a broken arm, lacerated liver and serious concussion.
Griffin did not want charges filed against Miller, and Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney Ben McLaughlin agreed in September to a plea deal that reduced Miller’s possible jail time from six years to six months.
Even McLaughlin said he was surprised by the five-day sentence, but added that he was “comfortable with it” in light of the community service requirement.
“The bottom line is the court sentenced him, and that’s what the court thought was appropriate,” McLaughlin said.
Michael and Gayle Griffin, the victim’s parents, disagreed.
They had asked to address the court prior to sentencing, but Reinholtsen said that because their daughter was an adult, there was “no statutory basis” for them to do so.
At one point, Michael Griffin stood to address the court without permission, and a bailiff quickly ordered him to sit.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Reinholtsen called for a recess, and as the courtroom cleared, Michael Griffin called out to McLaughlin, “Hey Ben, what kind of lawyer are you?”
Outside the courtroom, Michael Griffin swore as he waited for McLaughlin to emerge, while a visibly upset Gayle Griffin said the sentence sent a dangerous message.
“It’s OK to drink and drive in Humboldt County,” she said.
All three Griffins were ushered by bailiffs out opposite ends of the Courthouse.
Miller is scheduled to return to court in April 2009. If he has successfully completed the terms of his probation, the judge will consider a motion to reduce the felony conviction to a misdemeanor.