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Appeals court vacates 91-year sentence for Tashonty Toney, Endymion day drunk driver who killed 2 cyclists in 2019

Tashonty Toney, 32, received a 91-year sentence after pleading guilty to striking nine cyclists...
Tashonty Toney, 32, received a 91-year sentence after pleading guilty to striking nine cyclists -- killing two -- in a drunk-driving crash along Esplanade Avenue following the Krewe of Endymion parade on March 2, 2019. (NOPD)
Published: Nov. 6, 2021 at 11:51 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A state appellate court has vacated the 91-year prison sentence imposed upon a Mardi Gras driver who pleaded guilty to killing two people when he drunkenly plowed through nine cyclists on Esplanade Avenue following the 2019 Krewe of Endymion parade.

A three-judge panel from the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal said it agreed that Tashonty Toney’s actions “are deserving of a harsh penalty.” But the panel said it could not abide without more explanation the maximum sentence imposed by Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Laurie A. White, which it labeled the harshest in state history for a vehicular homicide case.

The panel found White had not adequately articulated her reasons for sentencing Toney as she did on Oct. 29, 2019, after two days of testimony.

The decision, handed down Wednesday (Nov. 3), does not immediately free Toney from state prison. But it does remand his case back to White’s courtroom, under orders to hold what the panel called a “meaningful sentencing hearing” in her courtroom. Only after that, the panel said, could it take up Toney’s appeal that his sentence was excessive.

Toney, now 34, pleaded guilty to 16 criminal charges, including two counts of vehicular homicide, each of which carried a maximum 30-year sentence. He did not contest striking the nine cyclists at high speed with a blood-alcohol concentration estimated at .215, about 2 1/2 times the legal limit. He entered a “blind plea,” meaning there was no sentencing agreement in place and he was essentially throwing himself upon White’s mercy.

At Toney’s first sentencing hearing, White heard emotional testimony from several injured survivors and from parents and friends of Sharee Walls and David Hynes, the two cyclists killed when struck by Toney’s Chevrolet Camaro as it sped down the bike lane to pass slower-moving traffic on Esplanade Avenue.

Toney apologized to victims in court the next day. But his remorseful words appeared undercut when a state prosecutor played a recorded jailhouse call in which the defendant and one of his sisters laughed about some of the previous day’s victim-impact testimony. That drew audible gasps in the courtroom, as did Toney’s sister when she was heard on the recording using a racial slur in reference to the parents of the dead woman Walls.

White imposed the maximum legal sentence upon Toney, which included consecutive 30-year prison terms for each vehicular homicide count, and six consecutive 5-year sentences for vehicular negligent injuring count. All told, the sentence amounted to more than 90 years, with 60 to be served without the possibility of parole.

“Certainly, the pain and suffering caused by defendant’s actions are deserving of a harsh penalty of imprisonment,” the appellate ruling said. “This court also acknowledges that retribution and deterrence are worthy considerations when imposing sentence in a case such as this.”

But the opinion also noted that the punishment constituted a life sentence for Toney “for offenses that lack criminal intent.”

White already heard from Toney again in February 2020, when she denied his motion to reconsider her sentence. In that court appearance, Toney’s victims were split, with four of the injured survivors submitting a letter saying they were OK with seeing him go free after 15-20 years if stripped of his driver’s license. Others, including Wall’s mother, testified they thought the original sentence was deserved and appropriate.

While the panel agreed White’s sentence was legal and that district courts have broad discretion to sentence within legal parameters, it imposed upon White to hold another sentencing hearing and to explain further any repeated decision to impose maximum sentences, require they be served consecutively and to deny Toney parole eligibility for such a duration.

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