By Derek Spellman
NEOSHO, Mo. — Just after his sentence was announced, Kaleb Miller made his way over to the parents of his late fiancee and, sobbing aloud, embraced them.
Minutes earlier, Miller had been sentenced to 10 days in jail and five years of supervised probation in the manslaughter and assault case stemming from a 2007 traffic accident that claimed the life of his 19-year-old fiancee, Kirsten A. Keczkemethy, and injured an older couple. The jail sentence is to be served on five consecutive weekends beginning Friday.
Keczkemethy’s parents had asked Circuit Judge Tim Perigo in Newton County Circuit Court for leniency when sentencing Miller on Tuesday on one count of involuntary manslaughter and two counts of second-degree assault.
“As heartbroken as we are about what happened to Kirsten, we have forgiven Kaleb Miller,” William Keczkemethy said, reading from a statement.
Miller, 21, of Joplin, pleaded guilty in late November to all three charges. He was the driver of a vehicle that struck two other vehicles Sept. 17, 2007, on 32nd Street near McConnell Avenue in south Joplin.
Kirsten Keczkemethy, who was riding in Miller’s car, died of injuries she suffered in the accident. A Joplin couple who were in one of the other vehicles, Robert T. Adkins, 81, and Faye M. Adkins, 84, suffered serious injuries. Miller was critically injured.
But William Keczkemethy said Miller was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the accident. Miller, he said, exhibited “poor judgment” but was not a criminal.
“He is a young man who has suffered some hard knocks and is struggling to find his place in a world that demands success and perfection,” William Keczkemethy said.
“No one shall be helped, nor anything gained, by placing him in prison,” he later said. “Kirsten is gone. Vengeance and retribution shall not bring Kirsten back, nor shall they make Kaleb a better citizen.”
William Keczkemethy recommended probation for Miller, along with community service programs and some vocational training.
Newton County Prosecutor Jacob Skouby said the Adkins couple, who could not attend Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, had sought some incarceration for Miller. A 120-day “shock” incarceration in prison would have been acceptable to the couple, Skouby said.
Miller did not address the court during the hearing. His attorney, Aaron Farber, along with Miller’s uncle and a psychologist who met with Miller contended that any incarceration would be detrimental.
The psychologist, Marilyn Nolan, said Miller is still suffering from major anxiety and depression for causing the death of “the most important person in his life.”
She argued that Miller had not displayed any criminal intent in the accident, and she warned against placing him in a system with hardened criminals motivated by criminal intent.
“I think this is genuine remorse,” she told Skouby under cross-examination.
Miller’s uncle, Allen Overturff, described his nephew as a “very sensitive” young man who would “have to learn a whole different way to survive” if he were incarcerated even for a few months.
A Joplin Police Department report states that Miller was westbound on 32nd Street and crossed into the eastbound lanes, where his Mercury Mystique struck the Adkins’ vehicle and then a second eastbound vehicle driven by Lindsey D. Butler, 19, of Neosho. Butler did not require treatment for injuries.
According to a probable-cause affidavit, witnesses described Miller as driving out of control at speeds estimated at 55 to 60 mph in the 40-mph zone. His vehicle reportedly struck a curb, crossed over the westbound lanes and passed vehicles in a turning lane before shooting into the eastbound lanes, the affidavit states.
William and Lynn Keczkemethy last month filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Miller. A $25,000 settlement in that case was approved Friday by Jasper County Circuit Judge Gayle Crane, according to online court records.
A personal-injury lawsuit was brought against Miller in January 2008 by the Adkins couple. That suit was dismissed in March.
In addition to his jail time and five years of supervised probation, Kaleb Miller will have to provide 960 hours of community service as part of his sentence.
By Derek Spellman