Trials & Tribulations: The Path to Justice for My Daughter’s Killer

It proved long, slow, and frustrating.

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In October 2005, Bryan Mitchell Gooldy accepted a plea agreement that would send him to prison for 40 years—20 for the death of our daughter, Kate, and another 20 as a habitual offender. He was a three-time felon high on opiates, cocaine, and benzodiazepine when he crashed into Kate’s Honda Civic on November 9, 2004. This was his 10th conviction. We left the Monroe County justice center that day believing we could close the door on the criminal case.

But five-and-a-half years later, Gooldy walked out of prison a free man and moved 18 miles from our Brown County home. And he got a driver’s license.

From the beginning, so many things went wrong. Gooldy had been released early from his first prison term in 2003. He failed a drug test and missed two probation appointments in the months leading up to Kate’s death. Had the probation officer alerted the court, Gooldy likely would have been returned to prison to finish his sentence.

In prison for the second time, Gooldy claimed he had inadequate counsel and didn’t understand the sentencing. Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Kehr, who had been kind to us, assured us these motions were nothing to worry about. Eventually, I relaxed.

Gooldy was released from prison just five months after we agreed to the plea bargain.

Then, in February 2011, a little more than six years after Kate’s death, Kehr called to say the original sentence was invalid. The habitual-offender statute says only one of the offender’s three felonies can be drug- or alcohol-related. Since drugs were involved in two of Gooldy’s felonies, the prosecutors should have applied the substance-abuser statute instead, which would have added eight years to his sentence.

We were furious that prosecutors hadn’t notified us of the mistake until six months after the motion was filed. Chief litigator Bob Miller said we were called the day they knew the problem was serious. But two-and-a-half weeks earlier, he had offered the offender a sentence of 20 years plus the new eight-year enhancement. The offender declined.

Prosecutors didn’t need our permission to negotiate a new plea bargain. But it was a high-profile case, and I’m sure they wanted us to agree to their next offer of 20 years with no enhancement. Even if his sentence was cut in half for “good time,” we reasoned, Gooldy would still serve 10 full years.

We wrote prosecutors that we would not demand a trial on these conditions: “We understand Gooldy would remain in prison until November 2014, and there is no chance of early release. If this is not correct, please notify us immediately.” No one got back to us.

Two years later, in September 2012, a WTHR producer told us Gooldy had been released from prison just five months after we agreed to the plea bargain. He had completed an online degree from Grace College. His original sentence was for 40 years; he served six and a half.

How, we asked, could he have been released without our knowledge? We had signed a form asking to be notified. But neither the form nor the information on it had been forwarded by the prosecutor’s office to the Department of Correction, though we believed it would be.

On April 3, 2013, we learned Gooldy had violated parole. One of his relatives had reported that Gooldy had been drinking for three days, and police found him intoxicated, with empty vodka bottles nearby. The state parole board sent him back to prison. Now he will have a parole hearing every May until his formal sentence ends in 2019. Each year, we go to the Government Center in Indianapolis to speak on Kate’s behalf.

In the last decade, we’ve learned a hard lesson about the justice system. If you look away, if you don’t go to hearings and read motions and ask questions and demand answers, things can—and will—go terribly wrong.

 

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