Local News

Thursday, Dec 24 2009 02:09 PM

Deputy's widow OK with plea bargain

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    By Michael Fagans

    Michael Fagans / The Californian Daniel Patrick Willsey's attorney Fred Gagliardini stands up to address the court as a deputy walks behind him at the conclusion of Mr. Willsey's bail hearing on Thursday morning in Bakersfield. The three-year-old criminal case in the car crash death of the Kern County sheriff's deputy came to an abrupt close Wednesday with a plea bargain that could put the Willsey in prison for up to six years.

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BY STEVE E. SWENSON, Californian staff writer sswenson@bakersfield.com

Daniel Patrick Willsey won't be able to celebrate the holidays in the comfort of his family home this year. Carrie Hudnall said Thursday she's just fine with that.

Hudnall tearfully asked a judge to keep Willsey in jail after his plea Wednesday to charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while driving under the influence of methamphetamine in the 2006 death of Hudnall's husband, Joe, a sheriff's deputy and the father of four.

Judge Gary Friedman, over the objection of Willsey's attorney, ordered the 49-year-old Willsey be kept in jail without bail pending his sentencing Jan. 29. Willsey faces up to six years in prison.

Friedman said his chief reason for jailing Willsey was "protection of the public," noting Willsey's history includes an alcohol-driving conviction in 1997, a single-vehicle crash in the Kern River canyon in October 2006, when he had a gun in his trunk, and the Nov. 14, 2006, head-on canyon crash that killed the 43-year-old deputy and injured a 19-year-old inmate he was transporting.

Willsey had a loaded, sawed-off shotgun in an unzipped bag on the front seat, the judge said.

The judge said Willsey, a Montrose attorney, has no ties to Kern County except for when he has taken the Greyhound bus to make all his court appearances.

But defense attorney Fred Gagliardini said all those things were considered when a $175,000 bail was set for Willsey and the probation department recommended a $120,000 bail on Thursday. Willsey has been free from custody for almost all of the last three years.

Prosecutor Melissa Allen said what's different now is that Willsey has been convicted of a crime that can put him in prison with no chance of acquittal.

She noted that even his bondsman felt Willsey might flee to Brazil nearly two years ago.

Gagliardini said he felt the no-bail incarceration was due to Hudnall's status as a sheriff's deputy.

That status certainly didn't quicken the case to trial. It stretched out over three years with various controversies dominating news coverage.

Carrie Hudnall shared for the first time Thursday what the last three years have been like for her and what she thinks about some of those controversies.

First of all, she came to all the court hearings.

"I come because my husband can't," she said.

Each time before entering the courthouse, she walked to the memorial of fallen law enforcement officers that has a plaque bearing her husband's name. She kissed her hand and then touched his name, saying a prayer for him.

She was too emotional Wednesday to talk about the plea but on Thursday, she said she was OK with it. She knows other wives of officers killed in the line of duty whose killers got the death penalty or sent away for the rest of their lives.

The crime in this case didn't reach that level, but she can still tell her children that if someone is impaired with alcohol or drugs when they kill someone in a crash, they can go to prison.

"That's priceless," she said.

She said enduring all the court proceedings and publicity has been difficult. She accused Willsey's attorneys of manipulating issues in the media.

One involved reports that a lab employee and "close" Hudnall family friend, Jodi Kessler, improperly handled a vial of Willsey's blood. Mrs. Hudnall said Kessler was at their house once, but she doesn't have her phone number and doesn't socialize with her.

Other reports centered on the accidental destruction of that blood vial, a dispute between the local crime lab and a private Visalia lab about how much methamphetamine was in Willsey's blood at the time of the crash, and a lab employee accusing a prosecutor and investigator -- all three being under the district attorney umbrella -- of lying.

Mrs. Hudnall said the bottom line is that evidence would have been presented at trial showing Willsey was under the influence of methamphetamine.

In a month when Willsey is sentenced, Mrs. Hudnall said, she will feel both joy and grief. She will continue to miss her husband, but she will be glad the criminal case is over.

"Instead of living for death (as she's done by following her husband's case), I can live for life," she said.

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