Quinton McClain's tears for his daughter turned to anger Thursday morning in Erie County Court.
His daughter, 21-year-old Jacquelyn M. McClain, was killed last April following a two-car collision in Cheektowaga. His daughter's friend, Aleia C. Easley, who has since pleaded guilty to manslaughter, was behind the wheel.
Before State Supreme Court Justice Paul B. Wojtaszek issued Easley's sentence in the downtown courtroom, Quinton McClain addressed the judge.
"I just want her to know that I don't hate her," McClain said. An already crying Easley, standing in shackles and orange prison garb about 15 feet away, burst into loud sobs.
A few minutes later, Wojtaszek said he considered myriad factors, including that the case involved the loss of life, and noted that Easley has been in custody for several months.
"You have to live with the grief and the guilt of what you've done for the rest of your life," Wojtaszek told Easley.
Then Wojtaszek announced the sentence — five years' probation and 75 hours of community service.
"Really?" McClain said loudly from his seat in the first row of the crowded courtroom. "Probation, sir?" He got up and walked out, as did a few other family and friends.
On Oct. 25, the 23-year-old Easley pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and has been in custody since admitting she recklessly caused her friend's death.
The Erie County Probation Department, which provides a report to the judge before a defendant is sentenced, recommended Easley be sentenced to probation, rather than prison, according to prosecutors. That recommendation was based on Easley's age; her lack of prior criminal convictions; that the nature of the death was accidental; and that Easley and McClain were friends, Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said.
Prosecutors had been seeking a sentence for Easley that included some prison time, and the judge had been considering a sentence of 1 1/3 to four years in prison, according to the District Attorney's Office.
Flynn said he believes Easley deserved prison time.
"She made a terrible mistake," he said.
Last April 23, the night of McClain's death, Easley and McClain had just been accused of stealing from the Save A Lot store on South Rossler Avenue in Cheektowaga when the pair got into a car and fled, prosecutors have previously said.
Before the fatal collision, Easley got into a crash in the grocery store's parking lot, after which the passenger-side door of Easley's Honda Accord could not be closed.
Easley, while heading north on Rossler, was driving at speeds in excess of 60 mph in the 30 mph zone. At 8:10 p.m., Easley ran a red light and collided with another vehicle at the intersection of Rossler and Dingens Street.
McClain was ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene. Neither drugs nor alcohol were found to be factors in the crash.
Before being sentenced, Easley said there's not a night that she doesn't think about her friend. She said she was glad to hear Quinton McClain say he doesn't hate her, because she had been beating herself up every night over it.
She said she is "just sorry."
"If I could take it back, I would," she told the judge.
To the district attorney, Easley did a number of things wrong — she knew the door next to her passenger couldn't shut, he said — and should have been given prison time.
"This was not a split-second decision," Flynn said.
Flynn said because of state law based on the felony level of the manslaughter charge Easley admitted to, Wojtaszek did not have the ability to sentence Easley to time in a local jail; the choice was either probation or state prison, he said.
In some cases, judges may issue a sentence for a defendant to spend a year in a local jail and then probation after that period of incarceration, Flynn said.
After the crash, Easley spent a couple of weeks in the hospital, underwent pelvic surgery and lost mobility in one leg. At her arraignment in June, she used a wheelchair; she walked into and out of court on her own on Thursday.
Jacquelyn McClain, who went by Jackie, left behind a son, Damon, who was 2 years old at the time of her death.
On the day she died, she posted a photo of herself and her son on Facebook with a caption that read, "I’m gone always be here when you need someone to run to."
Damon Glenn, the boy's father, also addressed the judge before Thursday's sentencing.
When he looks at his son, he sees Jacquelyn, Glenn told the judge.
The boy's mother will never get to see her son go to his first day of school, his first day of high school or his first day playing organized sports, Glenn said. He told the judge his pain was hard to explain, but it "hurts my soul" and the whole situation could have been prevented.
He said if he sees two missed calls from the same number, he gets anxious that something bad has happened. He doesn't put his cellphone on "do not disturb" anymore so he doesn't miss any phone calls.
When he dreams, he sees Jacquelyn — it "feels so real," he said — and he gets mad at himself for waking up.
"I lost my best friend," he said.