A week after their daughter Emily Dowdy was released from an Oklahoma prison and sent to a treatment facility, Nancy and Charlie Jackson say they are still in a "state of disbelief."
Convicted of vehicular manslaughter after a 1999 car accident that killed Ryan Brewer, the 20-year-old son of an Oklahoma City police officer, Dowdy, a former architecture student at the University of Oklahoma, was sentenced to 40 years in the penitentiary. The prosecution contended Dowdy was drunk; her defense attorneys argued that she was drugged by GHB, a date rape drug.
Her sentence was cut to 26 years on appeal, but after hearing arguments from prosecutors and defense attorney Frank Courbois, Judge Kenneth Watson suspended the remainder of that sentence and ordered her to spend the next two years at a drug and alcohol treatment facility.
Dowdy, 33, who attended the hearing in shackles, was transferred hours later to The Carter Center in Oklahoma City. Nancy Jackson says her progress will be evaluated after 90 days, and Dowdy could be given work release as early as October. "We hope the judge will send her to Texas," Jackson says.
Ryan Brewer's father, David, who is now in charge of the OKC police department's fatality investigation squad, told reporters he was disappointed with the judge's decision. Calling the reduction "a slap on the wrist," Brewer said the reduced sentence "only encourages it to happen more."
Judge Watson, however, made a point in the hearing of saying Dowdy's punishment was unusually harsh and that many others convicted of the same crime in Oklahoma had been given much shorter sentences.
Originally from Hillsboro, Dowdy was featured in a Dallas Observer story headlined "Oklahoma Railroad" (July 21, 2005), about her treatment at the hands of the Oklahoma justice system. The story revealed prosecutorial misconduct and showed that Judge Susan Caswell, a policeman's wife and the presiding judge at Dowdy's trial, was making rulings biased in favor of the District Attorney's Office.
Caswell was defeated in the last election by criminal defense attorney Watson, who had sat in on some of the testimony in Dowdy's third and last trial.
Last week, the Jacksons hoped their daughter might get some combination of sentence reduction and probation but were unprepared for the ruling that meant she would get out of prison immediately.
"I was in shock when the judge said he was suspending the rest of her sentence," says Nancy. Since the Jacksons have always contended that their daughter was not an alcoholic, they foresee no problems for her at the rehab center.
"Just imagine, three short days ago, Emily lived behind a 16-foot-tall razor-wire fence, and today she is dressed in street clothes, free as a bird, no fence, no prison grays, no prison ID," Nancy wrote to supporters.
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