The judge presiding over DUI manslaughter suspect Christopher Ponce's appearance in court on Jan. 26 sentenced him to 15 years in prison following a tumultuous day of statements from victims and a dramatic reversal from Ponce himself.
- Judge says it's never happened in his courtroom
- Ponce charged with DUI manslaughter in 2012 crash
- Ponce removed ankle monitor and fled; caught in Spain in 2016
Earlier in the day, after initially pleading 'no contest' to DUI manslaughter charges, Ponce changed his plea to 'guilty' following a courtroom break.
Ponce said he changed his mind after listening to victims in the courtroom speak out.
Christopher Ponce changes ‘no contest’ plea to ‘guilty’ during courtroom break. Ponce wanted to change plea after listening to victims speak out. Judge says this has never happened before in his courtroom. @BN9 pic.twitter.com/mZlCKnX7eT— Josh Rojas (@JoshRojasBN9) January 26, 2018
Authorities say Ponce was driving the wrong way on Interstate 275 and crashed head-on into William Angel’s vehicle on July 19, 2012.
The 20-year-old Angel died from his injuries and the two passengers in his vehicle were injured.
Ponce, who was 22 at the time of the crash, was on house arrest when he removed his ankle monitor in May 2013 and fled.
Angel's father created a website Find Chris Ponce dedicated to tracking him down. Ponce was an international fugitive for three years until he was detained by police in Spain in 2016.
Ponce’s escape was featured on CNN’s "The Hunt with John Walsh."
The two survivors in the case said they wanted the judge to give Ponce the maximum sentence. They called him a narcissist who fled to a cozy spot in Spain while they suffered.
In court on Jan. 26, William Angel's mother said she wasn't sure she'd ever be able to forgive Ponce.
"You murdered our son that night," said Cheryl Angel, addressing Ponce. "William didn't get to do a 'do over' that night. You should have died, not William. Your weapon of choice that night was your car."
Angel's father and brother told Ponce they prayed for him.
"Chris I've had daily prayers for you," said Wade Angel Jr., William's brother. "I really hope that you're sorry for what you did. You didn't kill William, you didn't kill in a man in his 20's, a man from Wesley Chapel. You killed my brother"
"Like my son, Christopher, I pray for you every night," said Wade Angel Sr. "I pray that the Lord would turn your heart and move you to do the right thing, but you didn't."
Ponce, after changing his plea, finally apologized to the Angel family.
"I'm sorry that I took your son from you," Ponce said. "I'm sorry that anyone was hurt. I'm sorry it wasn't me."
Cheryl Angel had additional words for Ponce after he'd changed his plea.
"You have given me a little bit of hope for you changing your plea now from no contest to guilty," Cheryl said. "Just because you feel that it's the right thing to do and that does give hope that there is hope for your soul."
In addition to the 15 years in prison, the judge sentenced Ponce to 10 years of probation. The Angel family said they were hoping Ponce would get more than 15 years.