Photo by Anthony Souffle from the Chicago Tribune
Capping two years of public conversation about a criminal case colored by race and class, a Lake County judge on Wednesday sentenced a woman to five years in prison for abusing inhalants behind the wheel of a luxury car before running over and killing a 5-year-old girl in Highland Park.
Prosecutors argued before a packed courtroom that Carly Rousso, 20, should spend at least eight years in prison for inhaling keyboard cleaner and killing Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento while she was walking with family on a sidewalk. Seeking to dispel the idea that Rousso was the spoiled child of a wealthy family who got high and killed a girl from a family of modest means, her lawyers pointed to Rousso’s difficult childhood in asking for probation or a minimal prison sentence.
The defendant showed little emotion and her mother cried in the gallery as Judge James Booras announced the prison sentence. Booras handed Rousso five years in prison for reckless homicide and four for aggravated drunken driving. The sentences are to be served simultaneously and she is likely to serve about 3½ years, assuming good behavior in prison, prosecutors said.
Rousso, who had been free on bond since shortly after the crash on Labor Day 2012, was immediately taken into custody. Outside court, one of her attorneys voiced satisfaction with the sentence.
The victim’s father, Tomas Santos De Jesus, said through an interpreter he was unhappy with what he saw as a light sentence unlikely to deter others from driving while intoxicated.
“Her life was taken away in a horrible way,” the interpreter said before De Jesus spoke tearfully and forcefully to Spanish-language media.
Rousso’s trial in May made clear the destruction she caused. Evidence indicated she huffed the cleaning product, lost consciousness and careened across several lanes of traffic, bowling over Modesta Sacramento Jimenez and her three children on a sidewalk in downtown Highland Park. Rousso’s car lurched back and forth after the impact, striking some family members several times.
In a statement read in court by a prosecutor Wednesday, the mother asked for the longest sentence possible — 14 years. She said her surviving children don’t want to go for walks because they’re afraid. Her daughter’s death has left a “painful void,” she said.
“Seeing my daughter killed in front of me is something I cannot put into words,” she said in the statement.
The controversy that surrounded the case was informed by race and class, and observers noted the contrasts between the two families involved: a defendant from a prosperous family and a victim whose family received donations to help pay for her burial in Mexico. Rousso’s lawyers have noted she is adopted and her biological mother is Mexican-American.
In the weeks before her sentencing, Rousso made widely publicized appearances, speaking to youths and voicing remorse and an anti-drug message. Her attorneys argued Wednesday she is determined to redeem herself and stay sober.
Her lawyers also invoked a litany of traumas Rousso reportedly suffered as they argued she used drugs to numb her pain. As a girl, Rousso was ostracized by her peers, raped by an acquaintance and bitten on the face by a pit bull in an attack that required hundreds of stitches, her lawyers said. After the rape, someone scrawled insulting graffiti about her on the wall of an underpass near her school, her attorneys said. Mental health professionals testified that she’s been diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and they cited her childhood traumas.
State law called for the judge to presume prison was warranted because of Rousso’s convictions, defense lawyer Jed Stone noted, but he said Booras should make an exception. Stone noted the compassion traumatized veterans sometimes receive and asked why his client shouldn’t receive the same.
“If we can’t have mercy on children who suffered like this child suffered, we should have mercy on no one,” he said.
The extent of the care given to Rousso was clear as her lawyers called multiple therapists who testified that she was troubled but had matured and taken responsibility for her crime. Stone at one point showed several pieces of art Rousso made after the accident while art therapist Nicole Gehbauer testified to her interpretation of their meaning.
But Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Ori suggested that the care Rousso has received has done little to change her behavior. He noted that Rousso acknowledged using inhalants and drinking even after the crime. He noted there was nothing exceptional about a criminal defendant with serious personal problems.
“Frankly, a sentence of probation in this case … would simply deprecate the seriousness of the offense,” he said.
Ori said Jaclyn’s parents have not been able to tell the truth to Jaclyn’s brothers about what happened to her. They believe she’s with relatives in Mexico, he said, noting that they will one day have to learn her true fate.
For her part, Rousso stood and looked down as she gave a brief apology, crying and shaking throughout.
“I wish more than anything it could be me instead of Jaclyn,” she said.
Booras said he didn’t accept that Rousso’s is an exceptional case. Justice, he said, called for prison. Rousso should consider herself lucky that she’s not dead, the judge said.
“I can say one thing — that the defendant is still alive,” he said. “In spite of all of her adversities, the defendant is still alive … and she caused the death of … a 5-year-old child.”
Rousso will be housed in the Lake County Jail before she’s moved to a prison, authorities said. Booras also sentenced her to two years of supervised release to follow the prison term.
Share this Post
This post originally appeared on ChicagoTribune.com