Shannon D. Houser, who was sentenced to five years in prison on charges stemming from a 2008 crash that killed a University of Kentucky freshman, went to Fayette Circuit Court on Monday to try to get the truck involved in the crash returned to him.
But the request to retrieve his pickup, which was impounded by police shortly after the fatal accident, is not what shocked the parents of the victim. It was the fact that Houser was out of prison.
Houser, who was sentenced to five years for tampering with physical evidence and leaving the scene of an accident in March 2009 after a jury found him guilty of those offenses, has been out of prison since Sept. 1.
Houser's attorney, who maintains the sentence was too harsh to begin with, and a spokeswoman for the state both said the release was entirely legitimate, but Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson said Houser "got 422 days for being a good boy while he was in prison."
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Houser served two years, six months and six days of what the jury thought was a five-year sentence, he said. "They call that in the (state) Department of Corrections an 'administrative minimum expiration of a sentence' ...The dirty little secret is that a sentence that a jury recommends and a judge imposes bears almost no resemblance to what they actually serve," Larson said.
Among those surprised that Houser no longer is incarcerated is Jack Blount of Park City, Utah, the father of Connie Blount, the student who was killed.
"We were quite blindsided by his early release," he said. "We find the whole thing quite offensive and quite disheartening. He did not serve out what the jury ordered him to serve out."
But Lisa Lamb, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said Houser completed the statutorily required amount of his sentence.
"He didn't get out early. He served his sentence," she said. Lamb said many prisoners get time shaved off their sentences for participating in various prison programs and for good behavior. She said the department discharges 200 to 300 inmates each month who have gotten such time credits.
"This wasn't a parole board decision," she said. "It's set by statutes. It's not set by the Department of Corrections. The Department of Corrections didn't let him out. It is what is required by statute."
Houser's attorney, Jerry Anderson, said Houser got about two years of credit for participating in prison programs such as a substance-abuse program, and for not causing any problems while incarcerated.
"I served my sentence out," said Houser, 40, who was living in Lexington at the time of the crash but now lives in Jeffersonville. "Everybody gets time off their sentence in the state."
Houser said he hasn't been doing well since his release.
"I've had health issues. I've got a tumor on my left lung," he said.
He added that he's tired of being hounded by the media and doesn't want his 14-year-old daughter affected by more publicity in his case.
Houser was eligible for parole after serving 20 percent of his sentence, Anderson said.
A parole board hearing was held after Houser had served that much time, but he was denied parole.
According to court records, Fayette Circuit Judge James Ishmael denied a motion for early release in Houser's case in December. In April, the state Court of Appeals upheld the final judgment and sentence in Houser's case in Fayette Circuit Court. In May, Ishmael denied Houser work release.
Anderson blamed the parole board and Jack Blount for Houser's incarceration being as long as it was.
Anderson said that when he was a young lawyer, victims weren't allowed to be part of the legal process in a criminal case because such involvement affected defendants' rights.
"The case should be about the defendant," Anderson said.
He went on to say that the fatal crash was an accident.
"Accidents happen. People die. And that's just the way it is," he said. "Unfortunately in this state, we prosecute people who have accidents. In Fayette County we are out of control when it comes to these vehicle cases."
Houser is a nice young man who was punished much too harshly, Anderson said. "That woman was drunk in the middle of the street on a rainy night," he said.
Houser's truck hit Connie Blount, 18, on April 13, 2008, at South Broadway and West Maxwell Street. According to a police report, Blount, who was with a friend, had started to cross South Broadway against the traffic signal and stopped in the street for unknown reasons. She died at University of Kentucky Chandler hospital.
It wasn't the first time Houser faced criminal charges stemming from a vehicle-related fatality.
On Feb. 20, 1993, he was charged with second-degree manslaughter. Houser's friend Thomas W. Kiszka, 21, of Paris, died after the vehicle Houser was driving crashed on Russell Cave Road and caught fire after hitting a concrete block wall. Houser accepted a plea deal and pleaded guilty to reckless homicide. He received a two-year sentence that was suspended, and he was placed on five years' probation.
Kiszka's father, John Kiszka, in a 1993 letter, told the judge his family did not think Houser should take the full blame for the wreck, which they considered an accident.