On May 21, 2010 Kelly McCarron began serving a one-year sentence in the Barnstable House of Correction for vehicular homicide while driving drunk, in connection with the accident that killed her close friend Jena Pothier.
After seven months behind bars, Dukes County sheriff Mike McCormack allowed Ms. McCarron to return to Martha’s Vineyard just before Christmas to finish her sentence under house arrest in her Oak Bluffs home.
It is a decision the Pothier family strongly opposed and which they said has left them disillusioned with the justice system. Terri Pothier, the mother of Jena Pothier, said her family felt “blindsided” by Sheriff McCormack.
The one-year sentence was part of a plea agreed to in Edgartown District Court last May. On June 11, 2009, Ms. McCarron was badly injured when she lost control of the vehicle she was driving, and swerved off the Edgartown-West Tisbury road. Jena Pothier, 19, who was a passenger in the car, was pronounced dead a short time later at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.
According to police, soon after the crash Ms. McCarron had a blood alcohol level of .23 percent, nearly three times the legal limit for an adult. Ms. McCarron was 17 at the time of the accident.
On October 15, Ms. McCarron asked the state parole board for early release from incarceration. The parole board denied that request, after hearing the objections of David and Terri Pothier and receiving letters from her friends.
After parole was denied, Sheriff McCormack received a request from Charles Morano, Ms. McCarron’s attorney. Mr. Morano asked that she be allowed to finish her sentence on Martha’s Vineyard.
In a decision he called “extremely difficult,” Sheriff McCormack decided to grant the request for home confinement, over the objection of the Pothier family.
Though originally incarcerated in Barnstable, Ms. McCarron was in the legal custody of the Dukes County sheriff. She was sent to the off-Island facility because the Dukes County House of Correction has no facilities for women.
Ms. McCarron, 19, returned to the Island on December 23.
She wears a device on her ankle that electronically traces her location. She is allowed out of her home daily, but only to travel to the Dukes County Community Corrections Center for rehabilitative programs scheduled in advance, according to Mr. McCormack.
She is still considered incarcerated in a house of correction as sentenced by the court, but under the electronic monitoring program.
Ms. McCarron’s return to the Island was strongly opposed by the parents of Jena Pothier. A series of misunderstandings and missed communications left the Pothier family in the dark about Ms. McCarron’s return to the Island.
“There really isn’t any justice in the justice system,” Ms. Pothier said. “To me it was just a slap in the face. She needed to be responsible for the crime she committed.”
Sheriff McCormack visited the Pothier family in November. David and Terri Pothier, who were very closely involved in fashioning the plea agreement negotiated by the Cape and Island District Attorney’s office, thought the plea included a provision prohibiting house arrest and electronic monitoring.
After showing Sheriff McCormack a letter outlining their request for such a provision, they say the sheriff told them he would not grant the request and the matter was over.
Shaken and confused by the development, the Pothiers went to visit the sheriff the following day to reiterate their opposition. They left that meeting believing that the sheriff would deny Ms. McCarron’s request to finish her sentence under house arrest.
The Pothiers said they found out about Ms. McCarron’s return to Martha’s Vineyard during their Christmas holiday in Florida. They saw it in a posting on the social networking website Facebook. David Pothier said two letters to notify the family were mailed to their Vineyard home a few days before the transfer, but they did not see them because they were away for the holiday.
The Pothiers applied for and received an agreement with state officials to get advance notice of any change in Ms. McCarron’s status as an inmate. In a letter to Mr. Pothier, the state’s director of victim services wrote, “The custodial agency will provide you with advance notice of any of the following events: temporary, provisional, or final release from custody, movement of the offender from a secure to a less-secure facility or escape from custody.”
The Pothier family said the sheriff, the court, or the victim’s witness advocate should have gone beyond mailing a letter. They said they deserved a phone call or an email to make sure they knew. They said if they had known, they could have taken action.
“The whole legal system screwed us,” Mr. Pothier said. “We’re supposed to have a say in all this.”
The Community Corrections Center where Ms. McCarron participates in rehabilitative programs is in the Martha’s Vineyard Airport complex, adjacent to the airport business park where both David and Terri Pothier own Cars Unlimited, an auto repair business, and work every day. Mr. Pothier said the proximity is distressing.
“I’m in the airport all the time,” Mr. Pothier said. “That’s what makes me so mad. This wasn’t thought out. It was thought out for her, but not for us. It’s like a knife in your back and they keep turning it and turning it, when with a simple phone call, this could have all been worked out.”
Sheriff McCormack told The Times in a telephone conversation he agonized over the decision and empathized deeply with the Pothier family. He ultimately decided it was in the best interest of Ms. McCarron that she finish her sentence here.
“It’s a difficult situation, extremely difficult,” Mr. McCormack said. “There was somebody who survived that accident and needs to get on with their life. Although I can’t do anything for the deceased, I can do something for the living.
“My charge is to uphold the public safety, yet provide rehabilitative services. The McCarron girl was going to be coming back into the community at some time. It was a matter of did she come back cold, or did she come back after being slowly reintroduced into the community by the community corrections process.”
Mr. McCormack said the final disposition of the case did not contain any provision preventing house arrest or electronic monitoring, as the Pothier family thought.
The plea agreement called for a sentence of 2.5 years in a house of correction, with one year to serve, and the balance suspended for five years of probation. She must also complete 500 days of community service.
Another condition of her sentence called for her to cooperate with police in their investigation of who supplied alcohol to the underage girls on the day of the accident.
Though police were initially dissatisfied with the level of Ms. McCarron’s cooperation, she did eventually name Sean Hester, 22, of Sagamore. Mr. Hester was working in Oak Bluffs during the summer of 2009.
As part of a plea agreement in Edgartown District Court last month, the court continued without a finding for one year, a charge of selling liquor to a person under 21. The court ordered Mr. Hester to pay a $50 fine, and complete 40 hours of community service.