March 07–A man who pleaded guilty in a crash that took the life of a beloved Kansas City, Kan., woman surprised a packed courtroom Friday by asking the judge for even more prison time.
He got it.
Wyandotte County District Judge Bill L. Klapper sentenced Joshua Jay Brazeal to 78 months in state prison — 90 percent longer than the 41 months that had been negotiated in a plea agreement between the district attorney’s office and the defense.
“I think I should get more time,” Brazeal said in prison gray and handcuffs. “Forty-one months ain’t right. I never asked for 41 months.”
Those in the courtroom, including the defense attorney, were taken aback. But the victim’s daughter, while pleasantly surprised, said afterward she still was disappointed in the way the district attorney’s office handled the case.
The spirit hovering over the proceedings was that of 79-year-old Geraldine Strader, a longtime school librarian with a huge network of family and friends who were devastated by her loss.
Brazeal was eluding police and speeding in a stolen Cadillac last August when he collided with Strader’s Toyota Camry in the 3800 block of Haskell Avenue. The impact spun Strader’s car around, tore off the driver’s side door and ejected Strader, who had massive injuries and died at a hospital.
Brazeal, who was on probation at the time, ran from the scene but was arrested later in Kansas City.
Friday’s sentencing hearing was the opportunity for people to publicly express their feelings on the loss of “Gerry” Strader and to offer their opinions on what should be done with Brazeal. Klapper had already received numerous letters.
One who spoke was Melba Hall.
“We raised children together, we taught school together, we belonged to social and literary clubs together,” Hall said. “She was a wonderful person, and she’s gone. … We will never eat crab salad and lemon cake (again). She’s gone.”
Strader’s son-in-law, John Brandt, said he thought of her as a mother, a counselor and a friend.
“We are cheated, we are wounded, we are betrayed,” he said. “We are victims of the reckless, selfish, cowardly actions” of Brazeal.
Son Todd Strader recalled that he had passed his mother on the road shortly before the crash. They talked briefly, and he reminded his mother to put on her seat belt before they each drove off. When he learned of the crash, he raced to the scene and saw the carnage. He described all the blood he later saw in the emergency room.
Todd Strader spoke of the “audacity” that Brazeal’s plea bargain called for him to spend just 41 months in prison when the guidelines allowed for 154 months.
Brazeal’s own older sister, Laura Brazeal, tearfully told the judge that she, too, wished her brother to serve more time. She said she loved him but was fed up with his life of crime.
“Forty-one months will not help him,” the sister said. “He needs to grow up.”
During the comments Brazeal, 28, sat with his hands clasped. He rose when the judge asked him if he had anything to say.
Klapper said he did not know Strader but felt as if he did and supposed that she would be the first to extend the hand of forgiveness. He also noted it was unusual for the court to deviate from the terms of a negotiated plea bargain.
Then he imposed a sentence of 60 months for involuntary manslaughter, nine months for aggravated battery and nine months on the firearm charge — all to be served consecutively. He advised Brazeal that he could eventually seek to have his record expunged but noted “that’s a long way down the road.”
Still, Kathleen Brandt, Strader’s daughter, said she wished the district attorney’s office had been more aggressive in filing additional charges against Brazeal, such as vehicle theft and reckless driving.
Edmond Brancart, chief deputy district attorney for Wyandotte County, said his office understands the family’s sentiment. But he said car theft would have been problematic to prove, and traffic offenses pale in comparison to what Brazeal pleaded to.
“It appeared to us the most severe offense possible was involuntary manslaughter,” Brancart said. “Our plea offer was designed to have him accept responsibility and require him to lose his liberty for a significant period of time.”
Brancart said it may be unusual for a perpetrator to ask a judge for a stiffer sentence.
“But it is consistent with him,” he said of Brazeal. “From the beginning, he has signaled his willingness to accept responsibility and own up to what he has done — which does not help the loss in this particular case.”
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