ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Judge Brett Loveless said he doesn’t often see remorse in his courtroom. But he said the level of remorse he saw from Michael Penick led him to believe the 40-year-old would not find himself in this situation again.
Loveless, at the 2nd Judicial District Court, sentenced Penick to three years in prison on Thursday in the death of Julio Simon Martinez, who was crossing Lomas NE near San Mateo in Albuquerque when Penick, who had been drinking, hit and killed him late one evening in October 2016.
The sentencing came after an emotional hearing during which Penick’s mother described her son’s traumatic childhood in orphanages in Korea, where he lived for much of his young life, at times withstanding “unthinkable” abuse. He made his escape at age 7 and survived on his own until he was adopted at age 9.
“When I told Michael I loved him during his first year with us,” she said, “I was heartbroken to hear him say that no one had ever loved him.”
Penick pleaded guilty in February to vehicular homicide and driving while intoxicated and he faced up to 10 years in prison. He left the scene after hitting Martinez and went to a gas station where, his attorney said, he may have continued to drink. A subsequent breath test showed his blood-alcohol level was .16 percent.
His attorney, Karl Swanson, said Penick refused to go to trial, despite having what Loveless described as a defensible case. Swanson said his client has since stopped drinking, and he has maintained a job in the many months since his arrest. He called him compassionate, empathetic and “one of the most, if not the most, remorseful client” he has ever had.
“I have never once heard a client say they don’t care if a jury would find them innocent of a charge, they want to go ahead and plead anyway,” Swanson said.
Martinez’s sister, who gave a statement over a courtroom speakerphone, said her brother was kind and passionate. She called the crime horrific, and she asked Loveless to impose the maximum sentence. Prosecutor Nick McDonnell made the same request.
In his own tear-filled statement to the court, Penick apologized to Martinez’s family and said he would never drink again.
Loveless said “the plague of drunk driving” has an impact on the lives of real people, people like Martinez who had “a family that loved him, he had interests, ideas, a life to live.”
After his release from prison, Penick must perform 500 hours of community service, and Loveless encouraged him to spend that time to use his unique perspective in educating others about the harm DWI can cause.
“I believe you when you say that it hurts you every day,” Loveless said. “You’re not a bad person; you made a very bad decision, and it had colossal consequences.”