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December 5, 2003

DA to ask judge to reconsider ruling on youthful offender status

From: Daily Home Online, AL - Dec 5, 2003

By Chris Norwood

Talladega County — District Attorney Steve Giddens has filed a motion asking Judge Robert Teel to reconsider his granting of youthful offender status to an individual who subsequently pleaded guilty to manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident with injury.

Giddens said he expects Teel to rule on this motion before the defendant is sentenced Monday at 9 a.m.

Michael Todd Lewis, 20, of Louisville, Ky., entered his guilty pleas in October. He was 19 years old on Dec. 7, 2002, when his vehicle collided with one driven by Brack Gilliam of Talladega. Gilliam was pronounced dead at the scene.

Lewis never stopped, and was not apprehended by law enforcement until he had driven some 20 miles away from the scene of the accident.

When he was transported to Citizens Baptist Medical Center in Talladega, Lewis' blood alcohol level was 0.221, which is almost triple the legal limit of 0.08 for an adult and more than 11 times the legal limit 0.02 for people under 21.

"It's hard to say what will happen until there is a ruling on the motion to reconsider," Giddens said. Lewis would probably withdraw his guilty plea if Teel rules in the state's favor, however.

Giddens’ motion, which was based on conversations with the victim’s family, essentially sets out the facts of the case in more explicit detail than the indictment.

"He fled the scene, making absolutely no attempt whatsoever to help the victim, or notify someone who could help him. And he was very, very intoxicated, more than 10 times the legal blood alcohol level for a person his age,” the motion states.

As a youthful offender, Lewis' sentence would be capped at three years and fines of up to $1,000. If convicted of manslaughter as an adult, however, his sentencing range would be between two and 20 years in a state prison.

The case was initially assigned to Circuit Judge Jerry Fielding, but Fielding recused himself from hearing it. Teel, of Coosa County, was appointed to hear the case instead.

The decision to try Lewis as a youthful offender was greeted with a mixture of disbelief and disappointment, both by members of Gilliam's family and of Talladega's deaf community, in which the victim had been active for most of his adult life.

An open letter written by the victim's son, Sammy Gilliam, said, "Some may say, 'well, (Lewis) just made a mistake,' but that is not true. What Mr. Lewis did was make a criminal choice. When he started drinking he broke the law, when he decided he was man enough to drive his vehicle while intoxicated he broke the law, when he hit and killed my father he broke the law, and when he ran from the scene of the accident in order to avoid punishment without even offering any help, he did so with blatant disregard for the law and moral values.

“People who break the law are criminals, and criminals should receive punishment that fits the crime ... Mr. Lewis took from us our father, our brother, our uncle, our grandfather, our teacher, our role model and our best friend. Nothing can replace what has been taken from us."

Gilliam was a graduate of the Alabama School for the Deaf in Talladega and attended Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. He worked as a printer at the Anniston Star, The Daily Home, and the Washington Star before returning to Talladega to go to work for the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind.

He eventually retired from Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind's E.H Gentry vocational school after a 27-year career there. During that time he worked as both a teacher and production manager in the printing department. He was a member of Bemiston Baptist Church, ASD Alumni Association and the Alabama Association for the Deaf. He served three terms as president of the last organization.

The accident occurred Dec. 7, 2002, at approximately 2:15 p.m. Gilliam, 62, was pulling into his driveway on Alabama 21, about 2 miles south of Talladega when Lewis rear-ended him at a high rate of speed.

According to one witness, Lewis' 1996 Jeep was still driveable after the collision, "but sounded like it was only hitting on one or two cylinders."

Lewis kept driving down 21 until he was eventually stopped by Sylacauga police officers.

He was initially taken to the emergency room of Citizens Baptist Medical Center for treatment of injuries suffered in the accident, and was subsequently arrested.

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