STORY UPDATED AT 8:07 P.M. MONDAY, JUNE 29
YORKVILLE – An Aurora man convicted of charges related to the hit-and-run death of an Oswego High School softball coach has been sentenced to a dozen years in prison.
On Monday, June 29, Kendall County Chief Judge Robert Pilmer sentenced Nehemiah Williams, 40, of Aurora to a total of 12 years in prison in connection with the death of Amanda Stanton of Lockport in a hit and run crash in Oswego Township in late June 2018.
Pilmer sentenced Williams for nine years within the Illinois Department of Corrections and 2 years of parole for not reporting an accident related to the death of Stanton; three years in prison and one year of parole for reckless homicide; and three years in prison and one year of parole for driving with a revoked or suspended license. He said the failure to report and reckless homicide sentences are concurrent, while the failure to report and driving with a suspended license sentences are consecutive.
Pilmer said 268 days would be credited to Williams' sentence for time already served.
Pilmer said he had to keep in mind not just the defendant's tendency to re-offend, but the danger to the public as a whole and to discourage people from doing something that could cost someone else's life. He said he considered Williams' statement to the court, a victim impact statement from Stanton's father and arguments for sentencing alternatives.
"As a parent, there are very few things worse than having a child die – having a child snatched from you when she was the most full of life. And every day is a reminder of what could have been or should have been – and whether it's two years or 20 years, that emptiness never goes away," Pilmer said. "Similarly, as a son, there's no greater disappointment when you let your own child, or sibling, or your own mother down. While you feel the obligation to be helpful, sometimes it doesn't work out that way, because you just didn't think about your responsibility not just to yourself, but to society."
Williams previously was found guilty of failure to report the accident and reckless homicide, which are Class 1 and 3 felonies respectively, by Pilmer during a bench trial that ended Jan. 15. Williams previously pleaded guilty to a driving with a revoked or suspended license charge, which is a Class 4 felony, during a Jan. 8 court hearing.
Dawn Projansky, lawyer for Williams, filed a motion for Pilmer to reconsider his ruling or grant a new trial two weeks after the bench trial. Pilmer denied the motion during the Monday hearing, saying he believes there was no basis on which he should reconsider his previous guilty verdict for Williams.
Stanton, who was 26 years old when she died, was struck by Williams – who was driving a silver Chrysler Pacifica that belonged to his girlfriend – at about 11 p.m. on June 23, 2018 or midnight on June 24, 2018 on Plainfield Road near Plainsman Court in rural Oswego Township, according to prosecutors. Stanton's body was found at the base of a tree several feet from the side of the road the following afternoon by a groundskeeper.
Williams said that, although he has lost several loved ones in his life, he couldn't pretend to know what it's like to lose a child. He said he wakes up every day wishing he was the hero in this situation and that Stanton, who was full of life and had a promising future ahead of her, could have just walked back from where she came from safely on that night two years ago.
Williams said he hasn't slept a good night since around the time of the accident and that he suffers to this day thinking about Stanton. He said he regrets not reporting the accident and, regardless of what sentence he receives, there's no good outcome to this situation.
"So Amanda, rest in peace," Williams said, during to Stanton's family and friends in the courtroom. " ... and I'm sorry for your loss again."
Jerry Stanton, the father of the victim, said during his victim impact statement that June 24, 2018 was the worst day of his life and his life hasn't been the same since the accident. He said he will never hear her voice again, he will never spend the day with her again, he will never walk her down the aisle on her wedding day and will never get to see her be a mother.
Stanton said her absence will continue to be felt with each passing holiday or family gathering and that "there will always be an empty chair." He said he also had to retire from being a high school baseball coach at Joliet West High School following his daughter's death.
"I could not deal with looking across the baseball field and seeing the girl's softball team at Joliet West playing on their field," Stanton said through tears. "It reminded me way too often of seeing my daughter coach her team at Oswego High School and being a legacy coach like my sons, Jake and Josh, and our family."
Kendall County State's Attorney Eric Weis said that, aside from Williams driving without corrective lenses when he was supposed to or not taking the initiative to report the accident before police approached him, Williams should not have been driving the night Stanton was killed because his license was already revoked for child support related issues. He said the state wanted Pilmer to sentence Williams to 12 years for the failure to report charge alone, along with the other two sentences that Pilmer ultimately gave, to hopefully deter others from making the decisions that Williams did that cost Stanton's life.
Not only that, Weis said, but Stanton's family and friends have to live with the consequences of Williams' actions for the rest of their lives.
"They got a life sentence," Weis said. "She got a death sentence."
Ultimately, Weis said, no sentence will bring Stanton back. However, he said, he thought Pilmer's sentence was fair.
Projansky said letters about Williams' character written by his girlfriend, relatives and boss said he is present for his children and his girlfriend's children, his children miss him, he cared for his disabled father and that he was up front and remorseful about his legal situation and about Stanton's death. She said the letters were seeking mercy from Pilmer in sentencing Williams and thanking Pilmer for his time and consideration.
Projansky requested that Pilmer grant Williams probation and periodic imprisonment, since he showed he was able to work a job without substantial violations to his electronic monitoring terms. She said that, while Williams has a criminal history, he has been a law-abiding citizen for the last two decades or so and she plans to appeal the guilty verdict and sentence.
Projansky said she believes Williams is remorseful for what happened, that he truly didn't mean for the accident to happen. She said his words in court speak to his current character and his understanding of how Stanton's family and friends have been affected by his actions forever.
"It is a tragedy, no doubt," Projansky said.
• This story has been updated to include more information following Monday's sentencing hearing.