Less than a month after a Carter County jury delivered guilty verdicts against Dakota Stewart in the drug induced traffic accident case that claimed the lives Gerald Letkiewicz and Justin Skinner, the 24-year-old was back in the courtroom Wednesday. This time it was to learn whether District Judge Dennis Morris would uphold the jury’s May 10 sentencing recommendation of:
• 25 years for the death of Letkiewicz
• 25 years for death of Skinner
• 10 years for possession of methamphetamine
Morris confirmed each of the jury’s three sentence recommendations and added an additional sentence stipulation. The judge ordered Stewart to serve each of the three sentences consecutively.
The judicial decree came after District Attorney Craig Ladd called four representatives of the fatality victims’ families to deliver impact statements. The witnesses talked of the loss they suffered on U.S. Highway 77, 5 miles south of Ardmore on the early morning of May 28, 2015, when Stewart, high on methamphetamine, drove left of center in a 2004 Chevrolet pickup. The intoxicated blunder caused the deadly crash that extinguished the lives of Letkiewicz and Skinner and severely injured others including Stewart himself.
Letkiewicz’ sister told the judge “… words can’t express the pain and anguish the defendant caused …” adding, “The scars will never be healed … No more backyard get togethers … No more holidays … No more family gatherings … My family is forever broken.”
Speaking directly to Stewart she added, “Dakota, I do forgive you. I truly do.”
She also pointed to Stewart’s testimony during his trial. The defendant had claimed he performed an in-motion super hero leap as the crash happened. He said he managed to dislodge himself from behind the wheel and leap into the backseat of the pickup where he shielded the body of child passengers.
“We know that wasn’t true,” she said, urging him to “ … learn and grow from this … Learn how to be a real life hero.”
Other family members also told Stewart they forgave his actions including Justin Skinner’s mother. Sobbing she described the teenager as, “My only son … My first born,” telling Stewart, “He considered you a really good friend. I have to forgive you, because Justin would forgive you.”
One of the last statements Stewart made to the jury while testifying on his own defense last month was, “It wasn’t my fault.” Wednesday, he had something new to say. Following the impact statements, Stewart, who was seated at the defendant’s table, turned, looked at the family members and uttered two words, “I’m sorry.”
The jury deliberated just one hour May 10 before returning to the courtroom and handing down the three guilty verdicts and the accompanying sentence recommendations.
Late Wednesday afternoon Ladd discussed the jury’s recommendations and Morris’ consecutive sentence order
“I’m convinced the jury wanted the sentences to run consecutive and I appreciate Judge Morris’ order,” he said.
The district attorney also lauded the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and Ardmore Fire Department for their efforts that provided the basis of the state’s case.
“I want to express our appreciation, mine and the victims’ families, to OHP and Ardmore Fire Department. They were instrumental in ensuring that the defendant was held accountable for his actions,” the district attorney said.
Immediately following his sentencing, Stewart, who has been detained in the Carter County Detention Center since his conviction, was returned to the county jail to await transfer to a DOC facility.