The maximum sentence was handed down Tuesday to a Bakersfield man, convicted of killing a man while driving a boat drunk. According to the Kern County District Attorney, this is the first conviction of its kind in the state and most likely the nation.
25-year-old Justin Ennis cried openly in the courtroom as a judge sentenced him to 15 years to life in prison. The victim's family and the prosecutor also shed tears as the two-year-old case, finally came to a close.
"He's in the boat, he's bleeding," said the niece of the victim in a 911 call on August 28th, 2010. That's the day Justin Ennis drove a boat into Sal Rodriguez and killed the soon-to-be father. It all happened on Buena Vista Lake. "We were on the boat and then this guy ran us over and he hit my, the driver. He's bleeding. He's bleeding," said the niece.
Evidence proved Ennis was drunk and under the influence of marijuana while driving the boat.
"Man you're drunk. You're too drunk," said an unidentified male voice on the 911 tape.
Ennis was convicted of second degree murder, the first murder conviction like this in California.
"Whether you are driving in a car on the road or a boat on the lake, if you are under the influence that is a crime, and we will prosecute you," said Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green.
At his sentencing Tuesday, Ennis broke down when he tried to read a prepared statement. "I've tried to write this letter a thousand times, still..." said Ennis. That was all the defendant could say before he broke down crying.
The prosecutor asked for the maximum sentence, citing several reasons, one of which is that Ennis tried to flee the crash.
"The people that hit him are trying to leave," said the niece on the 911 tape.
The prosecution also cited Ennis's criminal history, which they say includes five other convictions, one of them a DUI. Ennis was also charged with second degree murder in 2009 for the murder of his friend's girlfriend, but that charge was dismissed.
The prosecution told the judge during Tuesday's sentencing that Ennis is not remorseful, citing a recorded jail call. "Yeah. I mean it's all bad right now, but it will straighten itself out. The only thing I am really worried about, the only thing I am really disappointed about, is the boat," said Ennis from a jail call.
The defense says that call is taken out of context and that Ennis is extremely sorry for his actions. "My client is very sorry that this happened, and he knows the consequences," said Michael Lukehart.
Sal Rodriguez's wife spoke at the sentencing, reminding the judge she was pregnant when her husband was killed. That struck a nerve with the prosecutor on this case.
"These are the footprints of his unborn daughter who will never get to go to a father/daughter dance because of Justin Ennis," said David Wolf, Deputy Kern County District Attorney as he held up a copy of Camilla Rodriguez's baby footprints.
While the family is happy with Ennis' sentence, they say it doesn't bring back the uncle, brother, and father they once knew.
"We ask that this stop today," said Maria Lopez, the victim's sister-in-law. "If you decide to consume a drink, decide not to drive."
The defense plans to appeal Ennis' conviction and sentence.