A man found guilty of murder due to driving under the influence was sentenced to 17-years-to-life in state prison March 21.
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After 10 minutes at the bench, defense attorney Arturo Reyes and prosecutor Michael Pizzuti went to their respective tables as Judge Daniel B. Proud announced he had received a Marsden motion filed by defendant Joshua McCavitt — a motion to dismiss his attorney. It was denied, Proud said.
He then announced that 14 letters from victim Denise Caldwell’s family and friends had been received. The county Probation Department was recommending 15-years-to-life in state prison for the charge of murder and 10 years for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, the second sentence to be stayed, and he was “inclined to follow” the recommendation.
Jeremiah McCavitt, the defendant’s brother, was then allowed to speak. He apologized to the Caldwell family on behalf of both himself and his brother, and that he “feels terrible.” He noted, “My brother is a good man.” The defendant had submitted paperwork regarding his mental state, and Jeremiah said this his brother “wasn’t well at the time” of the accident. He said he should have brought the evidence to court. He again turned to Caldwell’s family and friends and apologized. “God bless everybody,” he said.
Proud noted, with both McCavitt brothers in tears, that Jeremiah showed he was “truly sympathetic.” Though Josh McCavitt tried to speak, Proud chastised him that he was speaking out of turn.
Caldwell’s stepdaughter, Jenn Lange, was the first to read a victim impact statement.
Reading for her father, Scott, she read that “For nearly a year after the accident, I was unable to sleep through the night or have a restful night’s sleep. For the first six months I was in therapy weekly, with little results to move beyond my grief. I found myself spontaneously bursting into tears when driving or doing mundane daily events.”
Having shared their house for 13 years, he said he and his wife “put much of ourselves in our home and I found it difficult to go home.” Within a week, he moved into his daughter’s house and put all his belongings in storage. He would stay “housebound for days rather than face the world.” He gave most of the possessions he had with his wife away, the memories of the objects too painful.
Finances were destroyed, as Denise was an equal contributor. He lost his home because of it and could not even pay for the car that was destroyed in the accident. He could not return to work and retired at the end of January 2013. “This has devastated my finances and I am repairing my credit due to Joshua’s reckless abandon.
“In the 17 months since Denise’s death, I am reminded daily of her passing. Any mention of anything Denise makes me mentally relive those moments of the collision and the agony thereafter. I see her arm broken and severed on every occurrence. The emotional impact will last the rest of my life.”
Lange then read her own statement, and said Caldwell was “an amazing woman. She was fun, full of knowledge on so many subjects and spent her time serving others.” A professional portrait artist and master seamstress, Caldwell “could sew a gown to match a movie character or fashion an amazing knight costume for her son.” When working at Shriners Hospital on Halloween, Caldwell would wear “intricate, hand-made costumes.” A ballerina, Lange’s daughters looked up to their “Nona” as they saw weathered ballerina shoes and other memorabilia.
Her father moved away after Caldwell’s death, when Scott Caldwell had lived close. “In a sense, our children have lost them both,” Lange said. They will not have Denise Caldwell to teach them to sew — just as Lange’s oldest daughter was at the age to use her own sewing machine. They will not have holidays with their grandparents. “My children’s opportunity to grow up with precious memories from their grandma, their Nona, has been stolen from them. And for what? A choice by one particular driver. A choice made even after previous consequences and warnings. A choice with grave, grave consequences for herself, her family, her community.”
At the scene of the accident, she had to console her father, she said. From then on, life was not the same — Caldwell was killed on the street she and her husband lived on. “How could he, how could we, pass that curve in the road every time we left or returned home?”
Robert Guth, Caldwell’s older brother, echoed how his sister helped the community. That community showed up to her memorial, he said, overflowing the room and all eager to share stories of “how she had changed their lives by giving both parents and their children hope, self-confidence, self-esteem and, most importantly, love.” On the other hand, “It is heartbreaking to see Scott, a Shriner’s Clown, no longer interested in something that gave him such joy because Denise made his costume specially for him.”
After the statements were read, Pizzuti spoke. “We need to also focus on Mr. McCavitt’s actions,” he said. He said the defendant’s callousness showed. While he appreciated the comments from Jeremiah, from the start, Josh McCavitt blamed Caldwell — despite hitting her broadside at highway speeds. “Even when he testified, somehow Denise Caldwell was to blame.” When McCavitt was escorted from the courtroom after his verdict was read, he said Caldwell was on medication, again trying to divert blame, Pizzuti said.
Despite being on bail for a felony offense and despite a prior DUI conviction, “Mr. McCavitt never learned his lesson.”
Reyes said that while there might have been traces of other narcotics in his client’s blood, there was no proof he was feeling the effects.
“On Sept. 13, 2012, a loving, hard-working, dedicated wife, co-worker, mother and friend” died, Proud told the court, due to “irresponsible and reckless acts” and being under the influence of alcohol and marijuana. He noted that McCavitt immediately claimed that the victim’s lights were not on and she was in his lane — both proven false during trial. McCavitt denied how much he had to drink, having a blood alcohol level of .12. Caldwell had “no advance warning or ability to avoid.”
Proud said, “The cause is clear — Mr. McCavitt’s reckless disregard.” His only remorse was after discovering “the consequences you have to face.”
For violating his probation, Proud sentenced McCavitt to two years with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. On the charge of murder, 15-years-to-life. On the charge of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, 10 years, stayed. In all, McCavitt was sentenced to 17-years-to-life in state prison with 338 days credit, with no conduct credits, nor could he accrue good conduct credits. Restitution of $9,000 was to be paid to Scott Caldwell.
After the hearing, Pizzuti said the sentence was “appropriate based on conduct. He really couldn’t have warranted any less.”
Reyes noted, “It is what it is.” He also extended his condolences to Caldwell’s family, saying, “She was a great woman.”
Jeremiah McCavitt approached the family afterward, again extending his condolences. “I hope the best for your family and I’m sorry for loss,” he said. He then left, tears already tracing down his cheeks.
Caldwell’s family simply wanted to thank the staff of the District Attorney’s Office, Pizzuti and the officers at the scene of the accident, who went “above and beyond. We were highly impressed and it was an honor to work with them.”