Kelsey Lou Cody has thrown herself on the mercy of the court.
The 23-year-old Flagstaff woman pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree murder in the death last September of 21-year-old NAU student Jordan Mahoney as she returned home on her bicycle.
In exchange for her guilty plea, the Coconino County Attorney's Office agreed to drop a felony count of leaving the scene of a fatal accident, as well all DUI charges against her.
There is no sentence stipulation, however, so prosecutors are free to seek an aggravated prison term. The presumptive sentence for second-degree murder is 16 years in prison, with a range of 10 to 25 years.
"Drunk driving is an enormous problem here and throughout the country," said Coconino County Attorney David Rozema. "Our office will continue to seek strong penalties for those who kill others by their decision to drink and drive."
'HORRIFIC AND IRREPARABLE HARM'
As many family members for both the defendant and victim sat by, prosecutors read a factual basis that outlined how Cody sped drunk in her pickup truck with a blood alcohol content more than twice the legal limit.
In the late hours of Sunday, Sept. 9, Cody accelerated hard through a 25 mph zone in the Bow and Arrow neighborhood. A Flagstaff Police Department crash reconstruction report showed that the truck was traveling at least twice the speed limit when it struck the bicycle, leaving 75 feet of skid marks.
The victim was killed instantly.
Mahoney was remembered after the collision by friends and family for her effervescent smile that could light up anyone's day. The English and physiology double major would have graduated from NAU last month.
According to family, Mahoney was a devout Christian and was involved in both the campus Catholic community and at her hometown church in San Jose, California.
"These crimes leave horrific and irreparable harm in their wake. The devastation caused to the family is incomprehensible," Rozema said.
NO MORE DEFIANCE
Cody's guilty plea on Monday was a change from her defiance immediately following the incident. The defendant had told investigators she was only drinking to kill the pain from her recent tongue piercing and initially claimed her girlfriend was driving the truck.
She had police take her photo in front of the banged-up pickup truck when she was arrested. She claimed she was on her way home from the bars when the victim "jumped out in front of her."
"The tone of her voice was that of someone who does not care," an officer wrote in their police report.
Cody was initially charged with manslaughter, but she was reindicted on second-degree murder charges in January. The defendant was released to the custody of her family last November, and she was out of jail until she claimed responsibility for the murder Monday.
Cody's guilty plea now sets up two days of hearings that will help determine how long she will spend in state prison.
Second-degree murder is a Class 1 dangerous felony and carries a presumptive 16 year prison sentence. The defense will likely argue for a mitigated prison sentence, which would be a minimum of 10 years.
FAMILY TO BE CONSULTED
Prosecutors say they will now be meeting with the Mahoney family, who have consistently come out from California to appear at court proceedings. The family's desires will dictate whether prosecutors seek an aggravated sentence.
Cody will not be eligible for parole until she has served every day of her sentence and will have to serve her sentence day-for-day.
She will also have to pay up to $250,000 in restitution to the family.
"You're giving up your right to a jury trial. You're giving up your right to have a jury determine aggravating factors," said Coconino County Superior Court Division 2 Judge Dan Slayton.
The judge emphasized to the defendant that her guilty plea meant he would be the one to determine aggravating factors, and prosecutors did not have to prove the evidence to him beyond a reasonable doubt, the way they would have to do for a jury.
Cody's defense attorney was not immediately reachable for comment on his client's guilty plea.
MANSLAUGHTER, NOT MURDER
Prosecutors charged Roberto Salamanca, a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant who grew up in Flagstaff, with second-degree murder after he swerved into oncoming traffic on East Route 66 in 2011 and killed Kyle Wible, the 20-year-old son of a retired Sheriff's deputy.
Like Cody, Salamanca was drunk and fled the scene.
Salamanca was able to beat the second-degree murder charge with a Coconino County Superior Court jury, but he still received a maximum manslaughter sentence of 21 years from Judge Mark Moran.
Eric Betz can be reached at 556-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.