A judge on Friday denied a motion by Mitchell A. Gayer, convicted in a double-fatal DUI crash in 2013 in Rock Island County, to allow him to take back his Alford plea or reconsider his eight-year prison sentence.
“I don’t see anything here that would change anything,” Mercer County Judge Richard Zimmer said during a brief hearing at the Rock Island County Justice Center. “I believe my ruling was correct.”
Gayer, 27, of Andalusia, immediately filed a notice of appeal after Zimmer denied his request. An appellate defender was appointed to represent him.
He entered an Alford plea in January 2017 to one count of aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol, a Class 2 felony.
In an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but agrees the prosecution likely could prove the charge at trial.
Zimmer sentenced him to eight years in prison on Sept. 11. He must serve 85 percent of the sentence before he can be considered for parole.
According to the Illinois Department of Corrections website, he was in the Shawnee Correctional Center as of Friday.
According to Rock Island County Sheriff's deputies, Gayer lost control of his 1999 Chevrolet S10 on a curve on 51st Street West near Milan and swerved off the road and into a ditch and hit a tree on Nov. 27, 2013.
Gayer sustained serious injuries and was in a coma for two weeks. His passengers died — Jamie Sedam, 22, of Port Byron, and Clayton Carver, 24, of Taylor Ridge.
According to prior court testimony, Gayer had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.146, nearly twice the legal limit to drive.
Gayer has maintained that he has no memory of the crash itself or the events leading up to it.
In January 2015, he entered an Alford plea to one count of aggravated driving under the influence and was sentenced in May 2015 to 18 years in prison.
He later filed a motion to take back the plea and argued that his former attorney, William Schick, was ineffective.
On Dec. 30, 2015, Associate Judge Thomas Berglund granted his request to take back his plea and vacated his prison sentence.
Illinois law allows for probation in aggravated DUI cases where a death occurs only if the trial judge finds that there are "extraordinary circumstances."
On Oct. 10, Gayer’s attorney, Katherine Drummond, filed a motion to reconsider the sentence or allow him to take back his plea.
She wrote in the motion that Gayer’s plea was made "unknowingly and involuntarily" and that the sentencing judge misapplied the law by considering improper sentencing factors.
She wrote in the motion that she provided Zimmer with four transcripts from other sentencing hearings where the judges in those cases found that extraordinary circumstances existed.
Zimmer "refused" to read the transcripts and determined that the transcripts and findings were not binding and therefore not applicable to its determination, according to the motion.
She argued that the judge's failure to consider the other trial court cases "materially prejudiced the defendant and his ability to argue and present evidence/persuasive authority for extraordinary circumstances."
Rock Island County State's Attorney John McGehee wrote in a response filed Jan. 18 that Gayer cited no facts to support his argument that he should be allowed to take back his plea and that the judge's ruling “reflected that the facts of the case required a prison sentence, despite the defense that the defendant made efforts to overcome that sentence.”
Sedam’s mother, Tracey O’Hara, said although the case for now is resolved at the trial court level, “it will never change.”
“You look forward to this part being over, just because it takes a toll on a person,” she said. “But ultimately it’s never over with.”