SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) – After less than 10 hours of deliberations, a Hays County jury has sentenced a man found guilty of murder and intoxication manslaughter to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Jason Tarr, a well-known realtor, was found guilty last Thursday for causing a crash that killed 60-year-old Nancy Sterling-Dalton in September of 2014 in Buda. Witnesses following the truck saw Tarr weaving onto the shoulder and crossing the center line before crashing head-on into Sterling-Dalton's car near Eagle Nest Drive.
"My mom was driving home from the gym two weeks before my wedding, she was working out to fit into her wedding dress," said Sterling Dalton's daughter Amber McKee. "When something completely out of the blue shatters your life and your family, you never get over it and you always have fear and anxiety. It changes everything."
Tuesday was the first time McKee was given the opportunity to talk to Tarr face to face. "My daughter will never know her grandmother," she said from the stand. "She died in a car, without me holding her hand."
Tarr was initially only charged with intoxication manslaughter, but the District Attorney's Office later added a charge of felony murder due to Tarr's three previous DWI convictions.
"I do think that a person who causes a death while driving intoxicated, who has done it two or this case three times in the past deserves a different set of consequences than someone who has never done it before," said Hays County District Attorney Wes Mau.
While a DWI is normally a misdemeanor, if someone has been convicted at least twice for misdemeanor DWI, each following DWI arrest is considered a felony. So, killing someone in a drunk driving crash opens the possibility of a murder charge and more time in prison, which is what the Hays County District Attorney did in Tarr's case.
During the trial, Assistant Criminal District Attorney Jennifer Stalbaum says Tarr had been drinking at a golf course with his friends before driving home. "When does a DWI become a murder? Well, this is when it becomes a murder when you have two prior convictions and you commit felony DWI," said Stalbaum during the trial.
Since the trial began, dozens of Tarr's friends and family have gathered to support him inside and outside the courtroom—at times, some waiting outside the courtroom could be heard praying together for a short sentence.
McKee said listening to the defense attorneys during the trial was hard for her. "Listening to the defense try and poke holes in blood alcohol tests, trying to get off of a murder conviction, the defense not owning or having any accountability to their actions and their family supporting what seems to most rational people, a really bad person," she said. "I understand narcissism at a different level than I've ever understood it."
Another difficult moment for McKee was after Tarr was convicted. Because he was out on bond and not considered a flight risk, the judge allowed Tarr to go home with his family for the weekend.
"He walked out of here literally hand in hand with his fiancé, that was a complete slap in the face to myself, my family and the judicial system," McKee said. "Jason was with his mother while we mourned with my family on mother's day."
"In this case, the judge felt like the defendant turning over his driver's license and passport was sufficient to ensure him not leaving the county. It's unusual, but this is an unusual case. Most murderers are not like Jason Tarr, most of our murderers are not intoxication manslaughter cases with multiple priors," said Mau.
Mau says he hopes this case sends a message to anyone who drinks. "It doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter how much money you have, it doesn't matter whether or not everybody thinks you are a nice guy or not, when you commit a crime that causes somebody to die, there are serious consequences for that."
McKee says the sentencing was as good as she could have hoped, but wishes Tarr was faced with more time behind bars.
"While my mom was dying, he was taking pictures of the damage done to his car. When you have someone brutally murdered like my mom, I don't think justice is ever served," said McKee.
The sentencing phase started on Friday and the jury started deliberating Monday around 11 a.m. and came to a decision before noon Tuesday. The jury could have sentenced Tarr anywhere between five to 99 years including life in prison.