Fatal DWI actress got off easy — twice — but new NJ judge sends her back to prison
SOMERVILLE — A former "Melrose Place" actress was sentenced Friday to more prison time for a fatal 2010 auto accident in Montgomery by a judge who appeared at times reluctant to follow the guidelines set by an appeals court that had ruled her initial sentence and a second sentence were too lenient.
Amy Locane was given five years behind bars, but likely will serve about 20 months if her next appeal fails, her attorney, James Wronko, said afterward. Locane left court without commenting to reporters and is seeking to be free on bail pending her appeal.
She served about two-and-a-half years of a three-year sentence before her 2015 release and has completed a three-year parole term.
State Superior Court Judge Kevin Shanahan appeared to be sympathetic to Wronko's argument that double jeopardy should apply and void the resentencing, but ultimately he followed the appellate court's instructions. He praised fellow judge Robert Reed, who imposed the initial sentences, as a respected jurist, but said Reed "made two very serious mistakes here and all have suffered for it."
An appeals court ordered Locane to be re-sentenced after determining the sentences imposed by Reed were insufficient for the crash that killed 60-year-old Helene Seeman and seriously injured Seeman's husband, Fred Seeman. Locane smashed into their SUV as they were turning not their driveway.
Locane's blood-alcohol level was likely about three times the legal limit for driving at the time of the crash, according to a state expert.
"There is not a day that has gone by that I have not thought of the pain that my actions caused the Seeman family and of course Helene Seeman," Locane said in court Friday. "I have worked very hard to correct that behavior and not be that person who did that on that day."
Locane, who was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and other offenses, had faced up to 10 years on the most serious count.
Fred Seeman sobbed as he told the judge how the crash ripped his family apart and how he nearly died from his injuries. He lashed out at Reed for "elevating the suffering of defendant's children above what we have suffered and continue to suffer."
Reed had cited Locane's young children, including one daughter diagnosed with Crohn's disease, as a mitigating factor in his sentencing. Locane's defense contended the crash was an accident and that a third motorist, whose car the actress had bumped into at a traffic light before the accident, distracted her by honking at her and chasing her after being rear-ended.
Though the indictment charging Locane didn't mention intoxication, a state expert testified her blood-alcohol level was likely three times the legal limit for driving, and that she was speeding about 53 mph in a 35 mph zone at the time of the crash.
A jury acquitted her of aggravated manslaughter, but convicted her of the lesser offense of vehicular manslaughter — a second-degree crime that carries a maximum 10-year sentence. But Reed downgraded that to a third-degree offense and imposed the lightest sentence available.
That prompted an appeals court in 2016 to order a re-sentencing. The panel instructed Reed to offer additional justification for his decision to downgrade the charge.
After Reed gave Locane essentially the same prison sentence in 2017, an appeals court wrote last year that the sentence was "a hair's breath away from illegal," and ordered the lower court to try yet again.
Locane acted in 13 episodes of the popular Fox series and also appeared in several movies, including "Cry-Baby" with Johnny Depp.