(UPDATE June 15: Holly Davis was sentenced to 25 years in prison, per the plea deal's terms.)
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery's office has gone on the defensive, doubling down on the decision to reduce the charges against Holly Davis, who shot and killed a Chinese exchange student in January 2016.
As Phoenix New Times reported back in April, prosecutors had initially attempted to charge Davis on 14 criminal counts, including first-degree murder, endangerment, and aggravated assault, after she rear-ended 19-year-old Yue Jiang's Mercedes and then fired into one of the vehicle's windows.
In late February of this year, Davis pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, and the other charges were dropped. The plea deal came with a 25-year sentence and an agreement to pay up to $250,000 in restitution.
But Jiang's family wasn't happy with that outcome, which was first reported in New Times and then picked up by Chinese media outlets. The family's lawyer told the Arizona Republic that they want to see the case go to trial on first-degree murder charges, and for Davis to face a longer sentence.
Davis was 32 when she killed Jiang, meaning that she would be released from prison when she's in her late 50s. She would not be eligible for early release, the county attorney's office said in an emailed statement from spokeswoman Amanda Jacinto.
Jacinto didn't explain why the charges were lowered. Instead, speaking for the office, she noted that "the pursuit of justice for victims of crime necessarily requires prosecutors to take into account the views and concerns of victims, as well as the practical realities of the facts and circumstances of any given case."
There was no indication that Jiang had been targeted due to her ethnicity, Jacinto added.
Chalking the Jiang family's outrage up to language barriers and the fact that they're not familiar with the American legal system, Jacinto wrote, "This resolution has been explained to the family of Ms. Jiang. Differences in criminal justice systems and cultural and language challenges are matters we continue to address as best we can and will not impede our commitment to doing all we can to help Ms. Jiang’s family as we head to sentencing in this case.”
Based on the online petition that Jiang's family has been circulating, they understand English — and the American legal system — just fine.
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"Judge [Warren] Granville previously imposed a 14 year sentence on a first time offender, remorseful drunk driver, who inadvertently killed another motorist," they write. "Previous cases of much less severity have resulted in multiple convictions for First Degee [sic] Murder, which is what the Jiang family requests and insists upon."
According to the MCAO, though, the Jiang family is just confused.
"Couple tragedy with the unfamiliarity of a foreign criminal justice system and confusion and frustration is not unexpected," the office's statement says.
Davis' sentencing is scheduled to take place on Friday, June 15.