Haden Blaine Gray, 19, was sentenced to 10 years probation by an Anderson County jury Friday, after being found guilty of manslaughter earlier in the day for the death of a 17-year-old Elkhart girl.
According to reports from the Anderson County District Attorney's Office, as a condition of the probation, presiding 87th District Court Judge Deborah Oakes Evans also ordered Gray to serve 120 days in jail.
In the three and a half day trial, Gray was accused of driving intoxicated and causing the death of Cheyenne Franklin, a junior at Elkhart High School, in a one-vehicle wreck which occurred on Anderson County Road 2101 in the early morning hours 3:30 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012.
According to witness testimony, four teen-aged passengers were in the vehicle with Gray, the driver, when the wreck occurred. The group had been at a party with friends and were traveling to another gathering nearby.
Toxicology reports revealed that Gray had a blood-alcohol content (BAC) level of .077, just .003 under the legal intoxication level of .08. The defendant's blood also was tested for hydrocodone, with results revealing that he had taken the drug in the past 15 to 48 hours prior to the crash.
The sentencing phase of the trial began at about 2:15 p.m. Friday, and after hearing just under six hours of testimony, the jury entered deliberations at about 8 p.m. Friday.
Testifying for the state during punishment were Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Philip Davis, who knew the family and told them of Franklin's death; Franklin's two sisters, Hope Harris and Faith McGinn; and the victim's parents, Curtis “Beaver” and Lana Franklin.
“Nothing is the same (for our family),” Harris said. “Every day is a battle. We get very emotional at times.”
Her mother, Harris said, who once lived a life of happiness and joy, was now just “going through the motions” after the loss of Cheyenne.
“I saw life, joy and happiness in her eyes. Now when I look at her I see pain,” Harris said. “She is not the person she once was. She is strong, but she will never be the same.”
Both Harris and McGinn testified that their parents and younger brother had to move out of their childhood home after Cheyenne's death, due to the sadness that was felt when staying there.
“(The loss of Cheyenne) has been a nightmare,” Lana Franklin testified. “When the officers came to tell me, I literally begged them to tell me it was not true. I still don't believe it's true. It is never going to be the same. I will never be happy, never again.
“We are not the same, our whole family is not the same,” she added. “I feel guilty if I laugh because my kid's dead. She's too young. It's not right. It's not fair. I just want my baby back.”
The defense brought 10 witnesses to the stand, including Gray's parents, grandparents, siblings and other family and friends, as well as Gray's bond supervisor and Gray himself, to testify as to the defendant's character and to plea to the jury to be lenient in the young man's punishment.
“The morning after the accident happened, I went to visit with the family,” Gray's youth minister Terry Evans testified. “The whole family was torn up. I tried to minister grace to the family.”
Evans said that he counseled with Gray on several short occasions, explaining that while the young man shared few details about the crash, he appeared to show remorse and never denied responsibility about what happened.
“I believe he believes in the Lord and understands the wrong he did in his past,” Evans testified. “While one can't dwell there, he should not forget what he did but learn from what has happened.”
Multiple family members testified that they had seen a drastic change in Gray since the crash — stating that a once joking, fun-loving young man had become solemn, depressed and prone to emotional breakdowns.
“I noticed a big difference in him,” Gray's older brother Dustin testified. “He seems to be depressed. He looks like he has lost weight and has had lots of breakdowns — he will just stop what he is doing and get upset and start crying out of the blue.
“He is very upset about what happened. He said he felt useless, worthless, because of the guilt he feels. He said he made a mistake and would do everything he could to take it back if he could.”
Gray's mother, Crystal Vaughan, testified that her son was “completely distraught” after the crash and was upset and apologizing.
“He carries a lot of guilt,” she said. “He feels responsible for her death. He is depressed and sad all the time. Haden's not the same and never will be.”
Vaughan said that she had put Gray in counseling because he was suicidal.
“They gave him a mood stabilizer but he didn't want to take it,” she testified. “He said, 'Why should I feel better if Cheyenne is dead?'”
Haden Gray, the final witness for the defense, shared his recollection of the wreck scene and voiced remorse about what had happened to his friend.
“I had an accident and killed Cheyenne,” he testified. “I made a mistake. I was driving too fast. I should not have gone to the party.”
Gray said that, after the crash, he first checked the pulse of his friends who were unconscious in the vehicle, Jeffrey Wilson and Cheyenne Franklin. Another passenger in the crash soon after pulled Gray out of the truck.
“I realized Cheyenne was dead but Jeffrey was still alive,” he said with emotion. “So when I called 911, I told them about Jeffrey. I laid beside the truck with Jeffrey until the ambulance came. I was hysterical.”
Gray testified that he had drank less than half-bottle of Smirnoff Ice® (cooler), a bottle of MD (Mad Dog) 20/20® and a few beers the day prior to the crash, but said he was not intoxicated at the time of the crash.
“I did make a mistake. I was driving too fast, I hit a bump and lost control,” Gray said in cross-examination. “I told (the trooper) I was intoxicated. I had been told that I was intoxicated all night. I was not thinking straight.
“I take responsibility for going at a high rate of speed,” he added. “I was not intoxicated at the time of the wreck.”
Gray testified that he felt terrible about the things he had done that led to the death of Cheyenne.
“She was my friend, a great person, a lot better than me,” he said. “I feel like I live in prison every day of my life.
“I loved Cheyenne. She was my friend and I would never intentionally do anything to hurt her or anybody else.”
The jury options in Gray's punishment were to sentence him to 2 to 20 years in prison (he would be eligible for parole after serving half of that sentence) and a fine not to exceed $10,000; or community supervision (parole), which was requested by the defense.
Representing the State of Texas on the case were First Assistant District Attorney Stan Sokolowski, Assistant District Attorney Scott Holden and District Attorney Doug Lowe. The defense was represented by Palestine attorney Dan Scarbrough.