A judge followed the recommendation of a Wagoner County jury Thursday and sentenced a Tahlequah man to 12 years in prison.

Rickey Dewayne Christie, 47, was convicted last month of first-degree manslaughter for the March 30, 2005, death of Lisa LaDawn Pena, 42. Pena was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Christie on State Highway 82 south of Tahlequah.

Christie told spectators – mainly members of Pena’s family – that he was “really, truly sorry” for the fatal crash.

“I mean that from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “Lisa was special to me. This has really changed my life.”

Despite apologizing to Pena’s family and friends, Christie continued to deny causing the crash as he spoke during the sentencing hearing. He admitted he shouldn’t have been drinking.

“I know I wasn’t the cause of the wreck,” he said. “I feel guilty, but to what degree I don’t know. She [Pena] caused the wreck. I know I shouldn’t say this.”

Assistant District Attorney Jeff Sheridan took offense at Christie’s refusal to accept blame for Pena’s death, calling it “appalling.” He told Special District Judge Jeff Payton that Christie and Pena had been drinking at Frenchie’s, a tavern in southern Cherokee County, as well as some convenience stores.

Sheridan said prosecutors don’t believe Christie’s story that Pena caused the crash by grabbing his arm while he was driving. “He thinks they could have made it home with his blood alcohol content being .17,” Sheridan said. “That’s a big problem.”

Christie must serve 10 of the 12 years before he will be eligible for parole, because first-degree manslaughter is a crime that requires the defendant to serve 85 percent of the sentence.

In urging Payton not to suspend any of Christie’s sentence, Sheridan also pointed out Christie’s other DUI arrests.

Payton ordered Christie to obtain long-term alcohol counseling while he’s incarcerated.

“I’ve been sober before,” Christie said during his statement to the family. “I know I can do it again.”

Christie, who said he intends to appeal the conviction, said he would have taken the five-year sentence the DA’s office offered to him before the trial, if he had believed he was guilty.

Margaret Raymond, Pena’s mother, said she still remembers the sadness on the state troopers’ faces when they came to her home to tell her that her daughter had been in a fatal car crash. “Time has seemed to stand still,” she said during a victim impact statement. “Losing a child is the hardest thing a parent has to cope with.”

Bob Stopp, Pena’s father, had similar words during his victim impact statement. He spoke of Pena’s love for her family. “She cared deeply for those less fortunate,” Raymond said. “He’s [Christie] the one who has to seek forgiveness from his creator.”

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