LETTER TO THE EDITOR: A ‘gross miscarriage of justice’?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following letter was addressed to Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn. A copy was submitted to the Delaware State News for publication.

I write to you concerning the case of the state against Zachary Krytzer. Krytzer killed my brother Heath Janssen on June 7, 2016 in a brutal, horrific manner. He was sentenced to four years in prison and 11 years of probation on May 23.

While I understand that no recourse is available since sentence has been passed, I want you to understand that I believe that this was a gross miscarriage of justice, and that the sentence did not adequately account for the severe impact of my brother’s loss or was of sufficient punitive measure. Simply put, your division “dropped the ball.”

A roadside memorial was constructed with flowers and a Verizon hard hat where Heath B. Janssen was killed on June 7, 2016,  on Del. 1 in Little Heaven. . (Delaware State News file photo/Marc Clery)

When the case was scheduled to go to trial, the charge against Krytzer was manslaughter, which was entirely appropriate. This charge was lowered to vehicular homicide 1 when Krytzer entered his guilty plea.

The state had a very strong case against the defendant, and it is unlikely that any jury would have found much sympathy for a heroin addict who demolished an upstanding citizen and veteran working within a construction zone, regardless of the fact that the accused had no prior criminal record and was diagnosed with PTSD. Why a plea was allowed and accepted is beyond reason.

What could Krytzer possibly have offered to make a deal worthwhile, except for the exchange of the headache and expense of a jury trial for your office? Perhaps you can explain this.

At sentencing, the prosecuting attorneys acted surprised that Krytzer only received four years in prison. I find this absurd. Unless the judge made some drastic and unknown reduction to the sentence at the last minute, what other conclusion is there than the plea deal was struck with a recommended sentence of four years? Would the defendant and the attorneys on each side have agreed to a deal without having a definite sense of the sentence to be handed down? Why would this be a surprise to the prosecutors? Perhaps you can explain this.

Your division had a real opportunity to set a standard with this case. My brother, a Verizon employee, was killed in a designated construction zone on Route 1 in Little Heaven. His work area was properly marked with cones and he wore appropriate safety gear. The incident occurred during the midday, that is, in clear daylight hours. His killer was driving under the influence of several drugs.

This is exactly the type of incident that is highlighted by the state as needing to be addressed within the criminal, political, and social contexts — a worker killed in a construction zone, a driver under the influence, an opioid addict. You had the perfect chance to send a strong signal that these behaviors will not be tolerated in Delaware, and that transgressors will be punished appropriately.

Do you believe four years’ imprisonment to be satisfactory in this case, given these factors? Or is this the facet of the state’s opioid crisis that nobody discuses? Perhaps you can explain this.

I encourage you to review the case against Krytzer, and especially to review the many victim impact statements submitted to give you a sense of the man my brother was.

Ian Janssen
Middletown

Response

The following is a response to Mr. Janssen from Danielle Brennan, the deputy attorney general who prosecuted that case.

I extend my deepest sympathy to you and your family for the loss of your brother. As you may recall, we first met June 28, 2016, to discuss the facts and circumstances of this case. Following that meeting, on July 1, we were advised that your parents wished to be the point of contact in this case. Several meetings with your parents followed and we were advised that the decisions presented at those meetings were brought back to you and the rest of your family. Of course, we met with your parents prior to the resolution extended in this case to discuss the legal issues and receive their input.

Importantly, the plea agreement extended to Mr. Krytzer required him to plead guilty to vehicular homicide in the first degree and did not include an agreement as to the sentence he would receive. The plea was an “open sentence” that allowed the judge to consider the facts and circumstances and determine the sentence.

The sentence of four years of Level 5 incarceration imposed upon Mr. Krytzer for Vehicular Homicide In The First Degree was also available to the judge had he pled or been convicted of manslaughter. The minimum sentence for vehicular homicide in the first degree is 18 months and the minimum sentence for Manslaughter is 24 months.

The difference between these two crimes is the state of mind — reckless for manslaughter and criminal negligence for vehicular homicide. While your factual recitation is correct, at trial evidence supporting both, and other lesser theories of culpability, would have been presented to the jury. While an acquittal was unlikely, a verdict of a lesser included offense is always a real possibility. These were among the factors discussed with your family in determining how to proceed in the case.

The plea agreement reached here provided finality for your family and a sentencing range allowing for the imposition of extended incarceration.

We understand that you and your family are grieving, and your brother’s death and the impact that has had on your family was a paramount consideration for us. We appreciated the thoughtful consideration provided by members of your family and addressed their concerns within the bounds of the law. This office prosecuted the case within the laws and standards available. To be sure, and for the reasons you note, a minimum sentence was not appropriate in this case, and the Court agreed.

Sincerely,
Danielle Brennan

 

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