By Sean Rabé
Three weeks after a jury convicted him of second-degree murder in the death of 9-year-old Teale Marie Sisson of Sutter Creek, Shayne Mason Willard was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison by Amador County Superior Court Judge Donald Howard.
The sentencing, held last Thursday, brought to a conclusion over two years of court appearances for Willard. Several members of Teale´s family were at the sentencing to read statements to the court detailing how her death had impacted them.
“It´s hard to imagine life without her, my daughter and my friend who was always right there, by my side,” Teale´s mother, Angela Creach, read to the court from a prepared statement. “I ache for her … She was robbed of her childhood, her life and we of her future.”
Teale´s grandmother, Callie Sisson, also read a prepared statement. “What will it be like and what has it been like not having our precious, adorable Teale in our lives,” she read. “There is no more sunshine, no twinkle in her green eyes, no giggles when we are playing games, I will never be able to fix her hair and tell her how beautiful she looks, no more shopping trips … This is so unfair that Shayne gets to live after he took her life.”
Perhaps the most emotional moment during the hearing came when Teale´s father, Bill Sisson, stepped forward to express his feelings to the court. Weeping, he recalled how he had sat in court, watching Willard express no remorse for killing his daughter and often joking around with co-defendant Lisa Babcock.
At this point, Willard, clad in an orange and white striped jumpsuit and handcuffs, turned to Sisson and said he was sorry through tears.
“Don´t you say you´re sorry to me,” Sisson replied with tears streaming down his face. “Pray for her.”
Sisson had provided the court with a written statement prior to the sentencing as well. In it he details how the loss of his daughter has affected him.
“The impact this has had on me is that my life is over,” he wrote. “My baby, Teale Marie Sisson, lost her life. I will never be able to tell her bedtime stories or watch her date boys … anymore because of Shayne Willard´s disregard for other life … As for the future without my daughter, I don´t know how to deal with this. I cry every day. How does anybody go on without their child by their side?”
Willard also read from a prepared statement and said that he was where he was because of drugs. “I am disgusted at what I have become,” he said. “There is not a day that goes by that I don´t think about what I have done … If I could give my life for Teale´s, it would be done … My only hope is that your family receives some sort of solace from my sentencing.”
With that, Howard offered a tentative ruling to defense attorney Robert Schell and Chief Assistant Deputy District Attorney Vern Pierson that detailed how he intended to rule. The lawyers were allowed to argue the tentative ruling with each side presenting its case for and against the ruling.
During his explanation of why he must rule as he did, Howard said Willard had “a substantial criminal record” and was on four separate counts of probation at the time of the accident, all of which had unsatisfactory results.
“He claims he feels bad about the accident,” Howard said. “But I think it´s a little too late. His claim at the time of the accident was that ‘I can´t believe I killed that little girl.´ That´s like saying I can´t believe I shot that guy in the head.”
Despite Schell´s arguments to the contrary, Howard´s tentative ruling was finalized later during the hearing. “I still can´t find the defendant appropriately remorseful in this case,” Howard said just prior to passing final judgement. “Even if he did express remorse it wouldn´t outweigh the circumstances.”
All told, Willard was sentenced to 15 years to life on the second degree murder conviction and four years for leaving the scene of an accident, which must be served consecutive to the murder conviction. Willard must serve at least 85 percent of the four year sentence before he can begin serving his time for the murder charge. He will not be eligible for parole on the murder charge until he serves at least 15 years in state prison.
The two evasion charges that the jury convicted Willard of were stayed by Howard because they involved the same conduct resulting in the murder conviction.
Willard was convicted last month of second-degree murder, evading a police officer causing death, evading a police officer with willful disregard for public safety and leaving the scene of an accident. All of the charges are felonies.
The jury was hung on a gross vehicular manslaughter charge. That charge was subsequently dropped by the prosecution. Willard was also convicted of misdemeanor driving with a suspended license.
According to evidence presented at the trial, Willard was the driver of the vehicle that killed Teale while fleeing a police pursuit on Aug. 8, 2003.
Willard was driving his 1998 Ford Taurus on Ione-Michigan Bar Road northbound approaching Highway 16 while being pursued by Amador area California Highway Patrol officers. Willard, who had ingested methamphetamines earlier that day, was traveling faster than 100 MPH in a vehicle that he knew had faulty brakes when he crossed the Sacramento County line, where a CHP officer lost sight of the vehicle due to the configuration of the road. He also allegedly passed several cars while fleeing the pursuit. Adam D. Creach, then 19, of Sutter Creek, was driving a 1988 Honda Accord on Highway 16 westbound with three female passengers, including 9-year-old Teale.
As Willard approached the intersection, he was allegedly traveling too fast to negotiate a right turn and struck Creach´s vehicle broadside, killing Teale instantly.
A passenger in the car, Lisa Marie Babcock, continually monitored the CHP car while the pursuit was occurring and reportedly urged Willard not to stop.
Willard and Babcock fled the scene of the accident on foot but were apprehended by CHP officers at the scene. They were then arrested and booked into the Sacramento County Jail and later transferred to Amador County for prosecution.
Babcock agreed in July to plead guilty to second degree burglary, leaving the scene of an accident and evading a police officer which caused death or great bodily injury. She also admitted a prior conviction for fraud that increased her prison sentence. All told, the agreement stated that Babcock would be sentenced to seven years and eight months in prison, which she was in August. The plea agreement stipulated that Babcock would testify against Willard.
Amador County District Attorney Todd Riebe said he was happy with the sentencing and stated it was “fair and appropriate given the havoc Willard had unleashed upon an innocent family.
“Nothing can bring Teale back,” he said in a news release. “But at least the person who robbed her of her future can spend his future behind bars where he belongs. Justice was served.”
Pierson echoed Riebe´s sentiments.
“The best way of summing this up is to say that everyone did their jobs – the investigators, the trial judge and the jurors. The verdicts were exactly the right outcome.” Pierson added that Howard was bound by legal prohibitions when he passed sentence on Willard and had to follow specific statutes when passing that sentence.
Reprinted with permission from the Amador Ledger Dispatch