FRANKLIN, Tenn. (WTVF) — Ashley Kroese, the woman convicted of killing a Brentwood police officer, has been sentenced to 8 years in prison.
Kroese was in court on Wednesday for a sentencing hearing. She took the stand and apologized for her actions. She spoke about her dream to move to the United States from France and told the judge she accepts the jury's decision. During her trial in February, Kroese waived her right to testify.
The judge also suspended her license for 5 years. Kroese will be eligible for parole after serving 30% of her sentence, which is about 2.4 years.
Last month, Kroese was found guilty by a Williamson County jury of vehicular homicide by intoxication, vehicular homicide - 0.08% blood alcohol content or greater, vehicular homicide by reckless conduct, and reckless aggravated assault resulting in death.
In June 2020, Kroese drove drunk on the wrong side of the road and crashed into Officer Destin Legieza's patrol vehicle. Legieza died at the scene. The 30-year-old is the only Brentwood Police officer to die on duty. Court documents said her blood alcohol level of 0.166% — more than double the legal limit.
Due to the nature of the crime, she will have to serve the majority of her sentence before she is eligible for parole.
The jury took less than two hours to deliberate their verdict and while deliberating, the jury asked to take another look at video from the night showing Kroese walking near her car before she began driving.
At the start of Wednesday's hearing, the state called for 10 years in prison, but the defense asked for eight years.
The court heard from Timothy Finney, who worked with Legieza at BPD. Finney said he no longer works with the department. During his emotional testimony, Finney spoke about the importance of his friendship with Legieza, adding that his life was "tragically cut short by Ashley Kroese."
Finney also spoke directly to Kroese, calling her "not a good person" due to the choices she made the night of the crash, and for her choice to go to trial.
"Regardless of whatever sentence is decided and given to Ms. Kroese today, she will still be out of prison and able to begin rebuilding her life at an age younger than when Destin was killed," he said at the conclusion of his statement, directly to the judge.
Scott Legieza, Destin's father, was next to deliver his victim impact statement. After approaching the stand, he took a moment to collect himself before speaking.
Scott Legieza recounted the morning he received the call that his son was involved in a crash, saying he knew in his gut something was seriously wrong.
"To see Destin laying lifeless in a bed with an empty basin tube will be an image in my mind that will haunt me forever," he said. "There are no words to accurately describe the mental trauma this inflicted to my body."
Scott Legieza described how his life has been impacted after losing his son.
"That horrible day, the weeks and months that followed, were all a blur. I, like many others, spent countless nights with little to no sleep. [I] became depressed. I would randomly cry uncontrollably with emotions when blindsided. I lived each and every day after the next with a monumental emptiness inside my heart," he said. "While I was tiresomely pretending everything in my life on the surface was OK, my soul was crushing and my life was spiraling out of control. I continuously find myself feeling guilty to have life, and just wishing God had taken me instead."
In speaking directly to Kroese, Scott Legieza said he will never forgive her.
"It sickens me how people always survive this type of carnage, leaving parents, spouses, siblings, other family members and friends of the victims emotionally in prison for the rest of their lives," he said. "In an attempt to have some form of internal; peace, I have been asked if I will ever forgive you. My answer then, now and forever will be not ever. Nor will I ever forgive you."
Julie Ray, Destin Legieza's mother was next. She, like his father, spoke about the morning she received the call that her son was in a crash.
"I was walking into my worst nightmare. When someone approached me and said those horrible words that will haunt me for the rest of my life, 'he didn't make it.' I have no idea who even told me. It was at that moment that my life was changed forever. Almost two years later, it still doesn't seem real," Ray said.
Ray called for Kroese to receive the maximum sentence.
"The maximum sentence allowed by law for Ashley is 12 years. For her to receive anything less, in my opinion, is an injustice to Destin. Even with the maximum sentence, she will be eligible for parole at the same age as my son was when she ended his life," Ray said.
After Ray left the stand, the prosecution played a five-minute slideshow of Legieza, showing images from his childhood into his adulthood. Those in the court were emotional as each photo was displayed.
The victim's wife Heather Legieza delivered her impact statement. She described how life has been in the years since her husband's death.
"Every morning, for about the first few seconds of waking up, I thought Destin was going to be there. Then I would flip over and see an empty spot. I did this every day. Every single day for a little over a year. I told myself over and over he wasn’t going to be there, but I just don’t think my brain could process him being gone forever. The pain and loneliness I've felt over losing Destin is hard to put into words. It's like you have this enormous weight sitting on top of your chest that feels like it's crushing you and nothing you do will lift it off," she said. "I had no idea it was even possible to be this sad. It's a terrible feeling to think my life was over at 29. Ashley you not only took Destin's life, but a huge piece of mine."
Legieza, like those who testified prior, spoke directly to Kroese.
Ashley, I don’t think you intended to kill anyone that day. But you moving forward with the trial when you know what you did was with intention. You should’ve just taken accountability for your actions. Instead, you made me relive his death in slow motion during the trial. I had to listen to every detail, see every picture, watch every video and I couldn’t even grieve privately because everything makes the news," she said. "It's been extremely hard trying to find a new normal and you've intentionally made this harder trying to drag this out. You've wasted everyone's time, including your own, and you should feel ashamed of yourself."
After her statement, the defense asked to enter 90 letters of support for Kroese into evidence. The court then broke for a lunch break.
Watch the first half of Wednesday's hearing below:
When the court returned from its lunch break, Alena Dean delivered testimony about Kroese's character. Dean met Kroese after the accident, when Dean's church connected the two through a pastoral outreach program.
Next, the defense presented a slideshow video montage of Kroese, prepared by her family. It lasted about 12 minutes and featured photos of her over the years of her life, beginning as a baby. It ended with a video of her covering Elton John's "Your Song."
Kroese's attorney read aloud one of the 90 letters entered in defense of her. It had been written by Lorenz Mills, a family friend who teaches French.
"Throughout the years I have watched Ashley bloom into a remarkably strong young lady who has never once been in trouble," wrote Mills. "Ashley had a promising and bright future ahead of her, not only because she worked really hard, but also because of the kind of person she is: an exceptional young lady who is kind, affectionate and brave."
The letter also addressed the perception of Kroese as cold throughout the trial.
"Culturally, French people are taught not to show emotion in public. I so wish it could be understood that her way of protecting the ones she loves so much was to hide her fear and cloak herself with her dignity and her courage because that was all she had left against a system she felt was swallowing her whole," it said.
Michele Peterson, Kroese's aunt, next took the stand. She spoke of Kroese's positive outlook on life and her ambitious nature. She also spoke about how much of an impact the sentence would have on her niece.
"This is her life too," Peterson said through tears, "and she's not going to be able to rebuild like you guys think she is. She's not going to be as shiny as she was before, and don't think for one second this is something she's going to forget for the rest of her life."
Kroese was called to give an allocution statement, which is a defendant's formal opportunity to address the court for expression of remorse and explanation of personal circumstances. Its intention is that the defendant's words be considered in a judge's sentencing.
In her statement, Kroese said that living in the United States had always been her dream. Specifically, she'd fallen in love with Tennessee when she first visited the state in 2014.
"It's been a struggle to realize and understand and accept that somebody lost their life that night, because I never would have imagined that I could physically harm somebody," said Kroese. "I accept the jury's decision and I sincerely hope that the Legieza family can find some kind of peace in that verdict."
Kroese said she would have preferred to have apologized in a more private setting but that the impact of what she'd done was felt by the entire community, not just their two families. She assured the court that she felt "deeply sorry" and that she would have to live with the consequences of her actions every day for the rest of her life.
The defense rested.
In closing statements, the state asked for the length of Kroese's sentence to be above the minimum of eight years. Specifically, the state requested a 10 year sentence due to her blood alcohol level and her multiple opportunities to seek an alternate means of travel that evening.
The defense asked for the minimum sentence in its own closing statements. They claimed that a 24-year-old with no prior record would receive the deterrent message with eight years in a penitentiary.
"This is an absolutely tragic and horrific situation. There's nothing that a 10 year sentence or a nine year sentence could do to change that. But an eight year sentence can meet all of those purposes and considerations under the sentencing format," Kroese's attorney said.
Judge Martin reminded the court that his job requires the wisdom to promote and execute justice in all cases brought before him, in combination with the sentencing laws laid out by the state.
"Every day when I come to work, I pray that I'll have the wisdom to do my job and on days like this I'm not sure I have enough. Because the question becomes: how do you promote justice in a case of this tragic nature?" Martin said.
The judge reiterated that the sentence in this case would be required to be between eight and 12 years in length. He referred to statistics of prior convictions of Class B felonies and then stated that the data was not helpful because Class B felonies encompass so many different kinds of criminal misconduct.
In searching through Class B cases dealing with vehicular homicide by intoxication, Martin was able to find only four that were similar. According to the judge, none of the cases involved a person convicted without a criminal record.
Kroese did not have a criminal history, and this was a major consideration.
"The sentence imposed should be the least severe measure necessary to achieve the purpose for which the sentence is imposed," Martin read from state legislature directives to the trial court. He explained that this meant that the law required a minimum sentence unless enhancing factors led to increased time.
He also considered whether there would be potential or lack of potential for rehabilitation.
"All of the evidence in this case that I've received would lead the court to believe that Ms. Kroese is a very strong candidate for rehabilitation," Martin said. He assessed Kroese's risk to reoffend as being low, or not likely to reoffend.
Judge Martin ruled that Kroese was a range 1 standard offender and would receive an eight year sentence of confinement without probation, and a commensurate loss of license for five years.
watch the second half of Wednesday's hearing below: