Matthew R. Willis will serve 30 days every year for a decade on the anniversary of the crash that killed his passenger.
Every May 10 for the next decade, Matthew R. Willis will mark a somber anniversary by going to jail.
It was on that day in 2008 that Willis sped around a curve on Hwy. 3 in Inver Grove Heights and crossed into the oncoming lane, crashing his BMW into an SUV. His passenger, Eric M. Nardini, died. The two women in the SUV, Lynn M. Johnson and Pamela A. Donovan, both from Eagan, were seriously injured.
On Monday, Judge Kathryn Messerich sentenced Willis, 26, of White Bear Lake to 10 years of probation and a staggered 365-day sentence. Willis will serve 60 days now on work-release and then serve the rest in 30-day chunks, starting each year on May 10.
He had pleaded guilty to one count of criminal vehicular homicide and two counts of criminal vehicular injury in January.
The unusual punishment came after an emotional 2 1/2-hour sentencing hearing in a Dakota County courtroom that included testimony from Nardini's family and an effort by prosecutors to secure a four-year prison sentence.
"We argued that this was intentional thrill-seeking behavior that claimed one life and almost claimed two others," said County Attorney James Backstrom. "This is a downward departure. It was not supported by my office."
Willis' attorney, Tom Bauer, acknowledged that his client had been driving 25 miles per hour over the 50 mph speed limit but said Willis was not intentionally "drifting" or racing, as prosecutors alleged.
Bauer said Willis, who was in a coma and suffered a head injury, is sorry for what he did.
Willis' license will be suspended for 10 years, and he will have to take a safe driving course before it is reinstated.
Bauer said such staggered sentences are rare but have mostly been used in drunken-driving cases. He said neither alcohol nor drugs was a factor in Willis' crash.
"There's a human tendency to put things behind and get over them. When you have to go back each year and live what you did, it becomes part of you," Bauer said.
Katie Humphrey • 952-882-9056