NORMAN — A Moore man who pleaded guilty Friday in Oklahoma County District court to first-degree manslaughter received support from the victim’s family during his disposition.
“[Lonnie Harkins] did everything he possibly could to avoid causing pain for Rachel Rissler’s family,” defense attorney Elton Jenkins said. “Those of Rissler’s family who testified spoke in favor of Harkins and said he was a good man and they forgave him.”
According to court records, Harkins, 30, and Rissler, his girlfriend, drove through the intersection of Newcastle Road and South Meridian Avenue when the two were hit by a moving train the day before Christmas Eve in 2014.
Rissler was subsequently ejected and pronounced dead at the scene. Hawkins was transported to OU Medical Center to be treated for injuries. He was arrested on complaints of driving under the influence of alcohol and manslaughter.
Pursuant to Harkins’ plea, Oklahoma County District Judge Michele McElwee sentenced Harkins to 10 years in prison.
Jenkins said the sentence was surprising, especially after the plea by Rissler’s mother, who told the court that sending Harkins to prison wouldn’t help.
“It shocked me, but I don’t think anyone in the courtroom saw that coming,” he said.
Jenkins said the prosecution said prison time was necessary, but they didn’t recommend a sentence.
“It’s unusual. My understanding is they knew the family would be there in support of Harkins and they wanted to respect the family’s wishes,” he said.
Jenkins said he plans to file a motion for a criminal sentence modification within the next few months.
“The motion has to be filed within one year of the sentence date (Jan. 20),” he said. “In the meantime, Harkins will participate in any and all programs the DOC offers. After that, it’s at the discretion of the judge.”
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