COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A Fort Jackson staff sergeant pleaded guilty Thursday for driving drunk in a crash that killed two college students.
Jabari Harding walked into court to face the families of two Allen University students he killed when he drove drunk last August. The former Army staff sergeant had 65 years in prison hanging over his head, but prosecutor will Bryant asked the judge for seven. The reason was weak evidence, and a blood alcohol level of .08 -- right at the legal limit.
"This is not an easy case, and what would happen if we went to trial?" said Bryant. "I think getting a plea to the felony DUI with the recommendation of seven is better than nothing."
Investigators say Harding left the Vista when he slammed into the students' car at the intersection of Gervais and Harden streets. The crash killed 20-year-old Jerry Blanding and 18-year-old Candice Davis.
Harding recruited more than 100 men and women to the U.S. Army, and lectured them on drunk driving. Candice's sister read a letter from her uncle, a 22-year Marine, who wanted to remind Harding of the impact on his soldiers.
"You decided to stop being the example for those you lead and turn your vehicle into a weapon of mass destruction, becoming no better than those who constantly wage war on the us in the United States of America," said the letter.
"I want everyone to hear me and understand that I said I had no intentions for this," Harding protested in court. "I tried everything I could to stop, everything."
"I hate that it happened, I hate to be a part of it," Harding continued. "I hated that people lost their lives, I hate it from the bottom of my heart."
Harding has spent the past year and three months in jail. He asked the judge to spare him the max. "I could spend 65 years of my life in prison, every day of it," he said. "I could mourn, I could grieve every single day. Nothing, absolutely nothing will pay back for what's happened."
"There is nothing you can do to ease our pain, but he has to pay for what he's done," said Jonte Davis, Candice's sister. "He needs to spend the next 65 years in jail, because for the next 65 years, we will hurt for what he did."