A substance-abuse counselor, Sherri Lynn Wilkins, 53, has been sentenced to 55 years to life in prison for second-degree murder after hitting and killing 31-year-old Phillip Moreno in November 2012 — and then driving away with him dying on her windshield.
Wilkins was found with a blood-alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit at the time of the accident in Torrence, California. Her defense was curious in that she insisted that she was not drunk but merely “self-medicating” while waiting for knee-replacement surgery. She had consumed three single-serving bottles of vodka and a can of Budweiser beer and Clamato before starting to drive. That would put anyone into a drunken state.
The sentence is quite long for this type of accident which is usually charged as vehicular manslaughter. However, Superior Court Judge Henry Hall said, “Ms. Wilkins demonstrated an extraordinary callousness in fleeing the scene and trying to shake Mr. Moreno’s body off her car. This is a callous murder, not an unfortunate act.” The sentencing is particularly interesting because it was set under the state’s three strikes law. Wilkins has a long history of drug abuse and arrests. Hall used that record to triple the 15 years to life sentence.
The fact that the prior crimes were not crimes of violence makes the case somewhat novel but not unique. Hall acknowledged that and that “She’s not a classic violent criminal. But you have to evaluate her history. She had an insatiable desire to become intoxicated.”
Many courts would have viewed the 15 to life sentence as more than enough for such a crime. The use of the three strikes law could make for an interesting appeal but often sentencing is viewed as a discretionary function for the trial court. It is one of the longest sentences that I have seen in such a case.