With a family left in pieces over the death of 9-year-old Brittany Gardner, Criminal Court Judge Shayne Sexton appeared to be struggling as to how to sentence her stepfather in the case on Monday.
“This is a tragedy. It is hard to imagine what it (the death of a child) might do to family,” Sexton said during Robert Kennedy’s hearing.
In November 2008, Kennedy entered a guilty to plea of criminally negligent homicide in the case. At that time his attorney, Keith Hatfield and Senior Assistant District Attorney Mike Ripley agreed Kennedy would serve a year for the crime.
However, they left it up to Sexton as to how Kennedy would serve the sentence.
Ripley opened by telling the court Kennedy had a history of not complying with laws and the rules of the court. He cited previous narcotics, assault and vandalism charges levied against Kennedy as support for his argument. Ripley also said the man had failed to accept any responsibility in his stepdaughter’s death.
“He came in here and entered a plea,” was Hatfield’s response.
Contending Kennedy had not acknowledged his role in the child’s death, Ripley offered a statement made by Kennedy. “His version is it was some type of accident,” Ripley said of the traffic incident that claimed the child’s life.
He was driving in a reckless manner with a faulty passenger’s door on his vehicle, Ripley continued.
According to Ripley, Kennedy had said “things happen” on the roadways.
“While it may not be the most eloquent, it is accurate,” Hatfield said of Kennedy’s synopsis of the event.
As he began to announce his judgment, Sexton cited sentencing laws. He said under state law, the most time Kennedy could serve behind bars was 30 percent of a year- 109 days.
“This is a tragedy by every stretch,” the judge said. “By virtue of the conviction that was not an accident.”
Continuing Sexton said the question was whether Kennedy had committed an active crime or one of judgment.
Taking his time reviewing the paperwork in front of him, Sexton told Kennedy he would serve three months in the Campbell County jail. That would satisfy the 30 percent of the one-year term. After his release, he would then spend the next three years on probation.
Sexton advised the probation staff to discuss the possibility of counseling with Kennedy upon his release from jail.
Kennedy will begin his jail sentence on Monday.
In June 2007, Kennedy and Gardner were traveling on Highway 297 in Pioneer when the girl was ejected from the vehicle, according to Tennessee Highway Patrol reports.
The Chevrolet Camaro being driven by Kennedy allegedly crossed the centerline. Next, Kennedy overcorrected sending the vehicle to the right and back to the left, THP records said.
When the Camaro turned sharply, Gardner’s door swung open and she fell from the car. She then struck the pavement with her head and the back wheel of the vehicle drove over her, THP said at the time.
Gardner was not wearing a seatbelt nor was she riding in a child’s safety seat.