MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WAFF) - A Huntsville man will spend 20 years in prison for a DUI crash that claimed the life of a woman who was eight months pregnant.
Her husband and young daughter survived the wreck and they were in the courtroom for the sentencing hearing on Thursday.
Joel Johnson faced the man who changed his family forever.
Johnson told the judge that his wife, Danetria, was taken from their family far too soon, as well as the son the couple was expecting when their car was hit head-on in 2017 on Jordan Lane in Huntsville by Dennis Hammond.
Hammond pleaded guilty to murder in the case and was sentenced to 20 years.
“I feel like the overall thing is bittersweet. It’s sweet because it’s over but it’s bitter because you still have those raw emotions when you very first hear the news. It’s great to have closure... I feel like no time is ever enough time no matter what the outcome was, because her life could have been so much longer,” said Tatayana Rice, the victim’s sister.
Danetria Rice-Johnson’s child was delivered after the accident, but later passed away.
Hammond's sisters stood for him in court and asked the judge to be lenient, saying he never set out to harm anyone.
Sheri Eagan stated that Hammond is not an "alcoholic monster" as some would assume after what happened. He helped take care of their mother with Alzheimer's for eight years.
"He didn't sit around drinking every day. I hope you find it in your heart to forgive him. There's no winners in this situation. This has left two families heartbroken and they've had to heal in different ways," she said.
Madison County Circuit Judge Ruth Ann Hall pointed out that Hammond has prior DUI convictions. She told him that when he decided to drive that day, he took not one life, but two.
"It was obviously very emotional for both families. Mr. Hammond took full responsibility early on in this matter for what happened in this very tragic case. The judge had a very difficult decision and we believe everything was as fair as it could have been under the circumstances," said Reta McKannan, Dennis Hammond's attorney.
McKannan added that Hammond entered a guilty plea to avoid a trial.
"We believe that if we had gone to trial, the outcome would not have been a lot different. It just would have been more difficult for both the families and there was not any reason to put the families through that," McKannan stated.
Hammond was also ordered to pay court costs and restitution. He has the right to appeal his sentence.
“There’s no amount of time to make up for what my sister’s life and her child’s life would have been. That’s really all there is to it,” Tatayana Rice said.