Two years ago, a judge was so horrified by Narkey Keval Terry's fatal driving duel on the George Washington Memorial Parkway that she bypassed the federal guidelines and sentenced him to more than 10 years in prison.
An appeals court unanimously rejected the punishment imposed by U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema as unjustified and sent the case back to her. But yesterday, Brinkema stood her ground, resentencing Terry to the same 126 months for the accident that killed three people.
The sentence is one of the longest ever imposed for vehicular involuntary manslaughter in the federal court system.
"It's my job to try to do justice," Brinkema said at yesterday's hearing in Alexandria. "I don't have any problem with the sentence. . . . The guidelines were created when the phenomenon of road rage wasn't out there."
Terry's eight-mile cat-and-mouse chase with Billy Canipe, 26, "constituted a wanton disregard for the safety of others," Brinkema said. "These two men were in an old-fashioned fight, but instead of knives they were using far more dangerous weapons."
After 10 minutes of dueling at speeds up to 70 mph, both cars jumped the median and crashed into oncoming traffic, killing Canipe as well as two innocent commuters, Nancy E. McBrien, of Vienna, and George H. Smyth, of Poolesville.
Traffic safety advocates, who still cite the April 17, 1996, crash as one of the area's most egregious examples of aggressive driving, were elated by Brinkema's decision.
"Justice is served," said Lon Anderson, spokesman for the American Automobile Association's Potomac chapter. "That 10 1/2 years has sent a really strong message. I'm glad she has stuck to her guns."
But Terry's family said the former computer operator had been unfairly singled out. "Once again, there is a miscarriage of justice," said Terry's brother, Barry Terry, of Alexandria. "They're going to use my brother as a pawn on a chessboard to make an example for aggressive driving."
Terry's lawyer, David B. Smith, already has filed a notice that he plans to appeal.
Defendants rarely get more time than the federal guidelines recommend, in part because judges must have a legal justification for going higher. In the 1996 fiscal year, "upward departures" occurred in fewer than 1 percent of cases, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
In Terry's case, the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Brinkema had failed to account for her decision to triple the southern Fairfax County resident's sentence.
"I have a problem with the rigidity of the sentencing guidelines," Brinkema said. "The 4th Circuit had problems with some of my rationale. . . . I need to find a different rationale."
This time, Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy I. Bellows urged the judge to follow the lead of a footnote in the 23-page appeals court opinion overturning the sentence.
The author, U.S. Circuit Judge Karen J. Williams, suggested that if Terry had acted "with malice," the usual standard for second-degree murder, that might justify the kind of prison time usually reserved for more serious crimes.
"Mr. Terry . . . stole from these families their future," Bellows told the judge. "This was conscious misconduct by Mr. Terry, and that supports the argument that there was malice."
But Smith argued that Terry was never charged with the more serious crime. "This undermines our whole system of justice," he said. "That sort of judgment should be made by a jury." Brinkema agreed with Bellows. "We have this absolutely deadly situation running for about eight miles, creating a significant threat to every other driver," she said. "It is not unfair to look at the guidelines for second-degree murder."
Yesterday's hearing marked the first time that Terry, 28, has acknowledged that he was to blame for the accident. During his trial and at his first sentencing, he maintained that Canipe had chased him down the parkway. He also got another speeding ticket -- his third -- after his conviction.
"The last 18 months, I've had time to think about what happened that morning," Terry said. "I do accept the responsibility for what happened. I'd like to send my prayers to the victims' families."