Judge sentences Carai Cortez for killing 3 in a DUI crash on I-565


Carai Cortez (Photo: Huntsville Police Department)

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - Thirty years. That was the sentence handed down by Judge Dennis O'Dell for Carai Cortez. The 22-year-old pleaded guilty to multiple counts of murder in the DUI crash deaths of a young mother, her child and boyfriend.

The wreck happened in May of 2016. Officers say the car driven by Cortez was traveling west in the eastbound lanes when the collision happened. Cortez was taken to the hospital in serious condition. Benjamin Johnson, 21, Alexa Hannig, 22, and her son, Hayden Martella, 3, were killed.

Tears filled the eyes of every single person in Judge O'Dell's courtroom Friday morning. The heartbreak. The pain. The suffering. It was overwhelming. It was a place no one wanted to be, but needed to be.

"This is one of the most profound, emotional, sentencing hearings I've ever been a part of because you've just got tragedy on both sides," said Shauna Barnett, Assistant District Attorney.

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One by one, the family of Hanning, her son and boyfriend gave victim impact statements.

"He's been remorseful since day one. He's never showed any aggression towards the family. He's never shown anything but just heartache and sorrow for what he did. He knew the gravity of the situation right out of the gate," said defense attorney Chad Morgan.

Cortez apologized to the families calling it a stupid, selfish mistake that he will regret for the rest of his days. It was evident that the hearing touched Judge O'Dell. The judge said he didn't have the power to heal or change history.

One of the victim's sisters asked Cortez to live for the three who can't. She and another friend both say they can't spend any more time being upset with Cortez.

"I forgive Carai because I have to. I'm instructed to.. and I have to. I forgive him and I truly hope that his time that was spent in prison he will change and he will look back on this and it will never happen again," said Callie Brown.

In addition to the 30-year sentence, Cortez is sentenced to pay a $60,000 fine and $10,000 for victim compensation.

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