Jarrod Witt Lee was facing up to a year in the Polk County Jail for culpable negligence in the death of motorcyclist Philip Brown, but he came away with one year of probation and 90 days in the Polk County Jail.
BARTOW — Jarrod Witt Lee was facing up to a year in the Polk County Jail after a jury had found him guilty in June of culpable negligence, but he came away from Wednesday's sentencing hearing with one year of probation and 90 days in the Polk County Jail.
It would mark the second time the Frostproof man had avoided the maximum penalty he was facing for the head-on collision that killed motorcyclist Philip Brown on a foggy morning in March 2017.
In June, prosecutors were seeking a conviction on vehicular homicide, a felony, against Lee, 33, but jurors found him guilty of the lesser-included misdemeanor. Had he been convicted of the felony, he would have faced up to 15 years in prison.
Bartow lawyer Paul Blenk, representing Lee, told Circuit Judge Larry Helms that Lee had no criminal intent when he attempted to pass two cars on County Road 630, a rural two-lane road, while traveling westbound at about 6 a.m. March 1. Brown, 40, who was eastbound, was ejected from his motorcycle and died at the scene.
Jeff Prunty, the jury foreman, said after the trial that jurors questioned whether Lee's actions had met the definition of wanton, which is an element of vehicular homicide.
The jury deliberated about two hours before returning a verdict.
On Wednesday, Lee testified that the crash has changed him, and said he wanted to apologize to the Browns.
“I've wanted to apologize since the first day,” he said. “I just wasn't able to. It's a tragedy, and I did not mean to do that. I'm sorry. I'd do anything to take it back.”
In their statements to Helms, Lee's friends and family asked the judge for leniency, even as Assistant State Attorney Jaenea Gorman questioned them about Lee's previous drug-related convictions.
In his argument to the judge, Blenk said that Lee has turned his life around, with a family and a good job.
“He has actually become a producer, rather than someone who is burdening our society,” Blenk said.
But Gorman, along with Brown's friends and family, said Lee should be punished for causing the crash that killed Brown.
“He has no moral compass, no regard for the law and no remorse,” said Brown's widow, Mary Marcia Brown.
She criticized his earlier requests to modify the conditions of his pretrial house-arrest.
“He repeatedly asked to be excused for his murderous behavior — asking the court to lessen the conditions of his pretrial release,” she said. “He left my husband broken and dead in a ditch on the side of the road then wondered why he couldn't go watch taekwondo classes.”
She asked for Lee to be punished.
“Jarrod Witt Lee will commit another felony again,” she said. “That's just what he does.”
Helms briefly addressed the Brown family as he imposed sentence.
“There's nothing this court can do or say that defines the man that Mr. Brown was,” he said, “and there's nothing this court can do or say that will lessen your loss or your burden, and I understand that.”
Helms said he was limited in his sentencing options after the jury decided not to convict Lee of the more serious vehicular homicide charge.
“There are issues that concern a lot people here today that are not actually issues that I can take into consideration because those issues have already been decided,” he said. “Those issues were decided by the jury.”
In addition to probation and jail, Helms prohibited Lee from driving while he's on probation.
Lee was given credit for the three days he served in the Polk County Jail following his arrest in May 2017. He had been released after posting $50,000 bail, according to jail records.
Suzie Schottelkotte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-533-9070. Follow her on Twitter @southpolkscene.