BUFFALO, NY - The man who pled guilty for his involvement in a fatal hit and run accident near the Broadway Market last fall is headed to prison.
Michael Held, 32, was sentenced Thursday morning to 2-1/3 to 7 years for leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death.
The October 2nd crash claimed the life of 48-year old April Smith of Sweet Avenue in Buffalo. Smith, the mother of seven children, also left behind six grandchildren.
Police monitoring auto parts and repair shops, were able to arrest Held three weeks after the incident.
"It's unfortunate that the maximum sentence the court can impose is 2-1/3rd to seven years, for what you have done," said Erie County Court Judge Kenneth Case, while passing sentence. "What you did...is one of the most inhumane, despicable acts you could have done," Case said.
Prior to hearing his sentence Held told the court, "I want to apologize to the Smith family, for the accident that happened on October 2nd, and I just hope, God willing, that they can forgive me."
It appears for at least one of April Smith's surviving children, that such forgiveness may not be forthcoming right away.
"I ask God every day to give me the strength to forgive Mr. Held, not for him but for me," Smith's daughter Theresa told the court. "Those prayers have not been answered yet," she said.
Outside the courtroom Smith's brother, Langston Alston, expressed frustration with the sentence.
"It's not fair," said Alston, who himself was recently released from prison. "I spent 23 years in for assault, and he murdered somebody. When you leave someone to die, that's a murder. That's not just a simple vehicular accident. He killed my sister, and drove away, and left her to die," Alston said.
"As has often been said, we don't enforce the laws as we wish they were written, we enforce the laws as they are written," said Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita.
While sympathizing with the Smith family, Sedita noted that Held plead guilty to the charge facing him, and received the maximum sentence for it.
"In that sense there was no plea bargaining here," Sedita said.
Asked by WGRZ-TV whether prosecutors could have tried to present more serious charges to a Grand Jury, instead of accepting a plea to resolve the matter, Sedita said the case lacked the needed evidence to do so.
Noting that it was three weeks before police caught up to Held, and without proof whether he was drunk at the time of the incident, Sedita says they couldn't press Manslaughter charges. As well, according to Sedita, the case lacked needed evidence to pursue more serious charges involving recklessness.
"Blowing through red lights, going through a stop sign, traveling at a high rate of speed, texting while driving, ..all those kind of things. If if you can prove that they existed in addition to the accident, then you might have recklessness," Sedita said.
Sedita also insists that despite Held having four prior convictions, including felonies, that it was doubtful that a judge would have classified him a Persistent Felony Offender under state law, a designation which could have put him behind bars for up to 25 years.
Instead, with time already served, Held could possibly be out in as little as two years.
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