Courts & Crime

Victim's family members forgive DUI killer

As a bailiff carted 24-year-old Jennifer Cowgill off to prison, Gracie Smith asked if she could give Cowgill, her brother's killer, a hug.

Cowgill never got that hug, but she wiped away tears with shackled hands as family members of 51-year-old Irvin Tefertiller stood and offered her their forgiveness.

Cowgill was sentenced Monday to 15 years in prison for hitting Tefertiller while driving her sport utility vehicle with marijuana and alcohol in her system, then fleeing barefoot from the crash in east Modesto last May.

Honey, you didn't leave victims on one side of the room. You left them all over," Smith said, as Cowgill's 5-year-old son bounced on the laps of her family and friends in the courtroom.

Cowgill pleaded no contest to two felonies -- gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and hit-and-run -- as part of a plea deal.

She originally faced a murder charge, but a prosecutor dropped it because Cowgill's blood-alcohol level was low, just 0.03 percent compared with the legal limit of 0.08. She tested positive for marijuana.

Cowgill's case was rare, one of just three DUI fatalities simultaneously charged as murder in Stanislaus County. She would have faced 15 years to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. A judge or jury would have had to believe Cowgill knew her reckless behavior could produce fatal consequences.

Cowgill had a prior conviction for misdemeanor drunken driving and was driving on a suspended license, according to court records.

Tefertiller's eldest son Trampus said he drove by the scene of the accident without knowing it was his father who had been hit and his motorcycle dragged 100 feet near El Vista and Haddon avenues.

"We have few joys in life, and having a loving father was one of those," Tefertiller said to Cowgill. "I still forgive you."

Cowgill sobbed as she admitted responsibility for the crash that killed the retired roofer and father of five.

"I will live with this tragedy for the rest of my life," Cowgill said. "Words cannot describe the sorrow I feel for your family."

With that, Superior Court Judge John G. Whiteside sent Cowgill off with few words. "Good luck to you," he said.

Read the full story at the Modesto Bee.