While being led out of an Arapahoe County courtroom in handcuffs, Taden Jones looked back at his mother, whose hand he had held before entering the courtroom. Both had tears in their eyes.
Nearly a year after killing two women in a car crash in Centennial while he was drunk, Jones was sentenced to 12 years in prison on March 13. In January, he pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide while under the influence.
Jones, 19, was sentenced by Judge Phillip L. Douglass to six years in prison on each count, to be served consecutively, followed by five years of parole.
"There are no excuses," Jones said to the judge moments before he was sentenced. "Whatever happens here, whatever you give me for my sentence, will not make up for the loss of these families. Regardless of what the sentence is, I will spend my life becoming a better person."
On April 1 of last year, Jones, then 18, was driving an Acura sedan that crashed into the vehicle driven by Audrey Burton, 77, near the intersection of South Colorado Boulevard and East Peakview Circle. Burton and her passenger, Gayle Brown Buckwalter, 82, died. Evidence would show that Jones was speeding, had been drinking alcohol and was under the influence of marijuana and other drugs.
Seven family members, friends and drug councilors spoke on Jones' behalf at the sentencing, and seven family members spoke on behalf of the deceased women. After the sentencing, Bill Buckwalter, son of one of the victims, hugged Jones' mother, Vanessa Conner, both crying.
“I was really bitter and angry at times through this year,” Buckwalter later said. "You had to be there. You had to get through the process and see (Jones') family and their pain. I can't take this with me through my life. I don't want to have this cancer of blame. It is just going to eat me alive. I am going to let it go, so that is what I am doing — I am forgiving.”
Prosecutor Rory Devlin, a deputy district attorney, had sought a 20-year prison sentence for Jones.
“Every element here is governed by choice,” Devlin told the judge at the sentencing. "Today, (Jones) needs to become accountable not just to himself or to the victims, but to all of us.”
Jones' attorney, Suzanne Rogers, had asked for a community corrections sentence.
"I would rather have seen him get community corrections to get more opportunities that he won't have in the department of corrections, but he is strong," Rogers said after the sentencing. "He is taking this very hard and very seriously. He is pretty resolved on changing his life as a result of this.”
According to the arrest affidavit, Jones, a 2015 Arapahoe High School graduate, admitted to having three beers before the crash. Jones was also found to be in possession of a fake South Carolina driver's license that said he was 23.
Blood samples were taken from Jones shortly after the crash. A report from the lab responsible for the blood testing estimated Jones' blood alcohol content at the time of the crash was 0.10 — the legal limit for drivers 21 and older is 0.08, while it is 0.02 for those under 21. Jones also tested positive for the use of marijuana, cocaine and alprazolam, a prescription sedative used to treat anxiety that is commonly known as Xanax.
"I don't know why God saw fit to spare me," Jones said at his sentencing. "It's all my fault. I do know that I owe it to God, to my family and to the families of the victims to be the best that I can."