A 22-year-old Gainesville man was sentenced to 40 years in prison and 30 years of probation Monday after pleading guilty to causing a chain-reaction crash that killed four people in 2008.
The courtroom prepared for jury selection Monday, but Cody Rhoden entered his plea for four counts of vehicular homicide, one count of serious injury by vehicle and one count of leaving the scene of the accident.
Rhoden’s attorneys asked a judge in April to move the trial to another county due to publicity caused by news reports, but they instead accepted the plea deal as jury selection began.
But the plea wasn’t a complete surprise.
“There had been some discussion last week about a plea,” said Phil Wiley, chief assistant district attorney for Gwinnett County. “But until he came in and did it, we had to be prepared to move forward with jury selection.”
The district attorney’s office recommended 40 years in prison. Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Dawson Jackson, who had scheduled three weeks to hear the case, held a pre-sentencing hearing to take testimony from both sides of the case.
“Family from the victims’ side testified, and several friends and a pastor testified for the defendant,” Wiley said. “All of it was very emotional.”
Rhoden took the stand and apologized.
“Never meant for any of this to happen,” he said. “I know it may not look like that, but if I could go back to that date and trade my life for any of them, I would.”
Gwinnett police said Rhoden was speeding on March 31, 2008, when his car struck a limousine carrying a family home from the airport. Witnesses said Rhoden was speeding and weaving in and out of traffic. Investigators said Rhoden left the scene of the accident.
The accident happened on Interstate 85 North near Indian Trail Road as Rhoden and a friend were driving home early from an Atlanta Braves game.
Limo driver Mark Anthony Gay, 44, and passengers Whitney Randle, 20, her brother, Alexander Randle, 14, and Whitney Randle’s son, Kayden Alexander Randle-Finley, 1, were killed in the crash. All were from Lawrenceville.
Whitney and Alexander Randle’s father, Demetrius Randle, 49, remained in the intensive care unit at Gwinnett Medical Center days later. Whitney Randle’s fiance, 22-year-old Latavius Finley, and Whitney’s mother, Falleen Randle, were injured in the accident and were discharged from the hospital.
Police said Rhoden later ditched his damaged Acura RSX at a nearby hotel before turning himself in the next day.
“I’m lost,” Latavius Finley testified during sentencing on Monday. “My firstborn died in my arms. My fiancée died in my arms. My little brother died after responding to me on the highway. My life has not been the same.”
In June 2008, a Gwinnett County grand jury indicted Rhoden on 11 counts, including four counts of vehicular homicide.
More than two years later, the district attorney’s office offered Rhoden a plea for 50 years in prison, but he turned it down and the trial date was set for Aug. 16.
“Based on the fact that we were ready to go to trial and the seriousness of the crime, where four were killed and one was seriously injured and would never be normal again, we thought 40 years this time was fair,” Wiley said. “It took this long to get to trial because there were a lot of delays, and Rhoden changed attorneys. When a new one comes in, you have to give time for him to get ready. Both sides also hired experts, and you have to give them time to review the case.”
Now, the Georgia Department of Corrections determines what happens next for Rhoden.
“He’ll most likely go to the facility diagnostics unit in Jackson, and they’ll decide where he fits into the system,” Rhoden’s attorney Ridge Rairigh said Monday afternoon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report