CLEVELAND — A Cleveland man will spend the next 14 years behind bars after entering a guilty plea Thursday in the 2017 wreck that claimed the life of 3-year-old Easton Cain in the parking lot of Ingles in Cleveland.
Senior Judge Richard Winegarden presided over the plea and sentencing for Jay Holcomb, 37, who will serve 14 years behind bars for vehicular homicide in the Cain case.
Appearing in White County Superior Court Thursday morning, Holcomb pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide, driving under the influence of drugs, reckless driving, and driving with expired license in the incident that happened about 12:45 p.m. Jan. 17, 2017.
“What he pleaded to was Count 1, the lead count, vehicular homicide by driving under the influence of methamphetamine,” said District Attorney Jeff Langley. “On that, he was sentenced to 15, to serve 14.”
Counts 2 and 3, other types of vehicular homicide, were dismissed because Count 1 was imposed.
“Count 4 is the underlying driving under the influence of methamphetamine,” Langley said. “He was convicted of that, but the court cannot impose any additional sentence. It merges in with the vehicular homicide by DUI, so you can’t have an additional punishment.”
The charge of no insurance also was dropped.
“There’s an ongoing civil argument about what insurance applies to that vehicle,” Langley said. “Actually, by dropping that count, it helps the Cains in their civil litigation to collect funds, so we dropped that count on their behalf.”
Driving with an expired license added another 12 months of probation onto the sentence.
A separate case for methamphetamine yielded the maximum, a three-year sentence, but that sentence was probated consecutive to everything in the vehicular homicide case, according to Langley.
The plea comes only a month before Holcomb was scheduled to face a jury trial in Union County.
“This case was resolved through what’s called a capped plea, which means there was an agreement on what the maximum sentence and the minimum sentence would be regarding incarceration,” Langley said. “In this case, the maximum sentence available on vehicular homicide is 15 years.”
Langley explained more about the plea deal.
“My agreement was I would not ask for more than 14, therefore I only gave up one year,” Langley said. “And that would be a year that still would be subject to Pardons and Parole, so it’s really only a percentage of that year that we gave up in terms of sentencing. We were able to argue for a full 14 years rather than 15, and by agreeing to that we had a one-day sentencing hearing that was very difficult for the family to sit through, but they were able to hold up and make it through the day. A full jury trial would have taken more than a week with long jury selection. The venue had been changed to Union County. The victim’s family would have had to travel there for that trial. That would have been exhausting and difficult.”
Langley explained he placed a witness to the incident from the same vantage point as the victim’s mother on the stand rather than calling Easton Cain’s mother to testify during sentencing.
“We put her up to testify to everything that happened, rather than put Ms. Cain on the stand,” Langley said. “It would have been horribly difficult for her. She has suffered horribly — unimaginably — having seen her 3-year-old taken from her within arm’s reach. We were able to avoid a jury trial and putting her through that jury trial by giving up one year of potential sentence. Therefore, we were able to get a very good sentence in this case, to the extent that the law allows it.”
Langley said if he were the one writing legislation, he would lean more toward a maximum 30-year sentence for vehicular homicide but since he is not, he must follow current law.
“We’ve got him under a sentence of 20 years, with the first 14 to be served in custody, the remainder on probation by stacking his other methamphetamine charge and the other misdemeanor charges with it to create that additional probation,” Langley said. “While it’s not perfect justice, it’s substantial justice. We’re happy with the sentence the judge gave under the circumstances. Under the statute that we’re working with, we got 14 out of 15 years sentence, so we’re happy with that.”
One of the conditions placed on Holcomb’s sentence is a Fourth Amendment waiver, meaning he can be randomly checked by law enforcement once he is released from prison during that 20-year sentence.
Winegarden denied a request from Holcomb’s attorneys that he be granted first offender status that would have provided that there would not be a public record of his conviction once his probation ended.
“I opposed that,” Langley said. “The judge agreed with me and did not give it.”
Despite that, the judge did not grant all of Langley’s requests.
“I asked that he be banished from White County so these [victim’s] family members wouldn’t have to run into him, but there was a substantial argument that Mr. Holcomb has deep ties to the county,” Langley said. “The judge understood that argument and did not impose a banishment.
“The other thing that I asked for that the judge did not impose was no driver’s license throughout the 20 years of probation,” Langley said. “At some point when he’s released from prison, he would be eligible to apply for a driver’s license and receive one.”
Fines of $1,000 for vehicular homicide and $1,000 for possession of methamphetamine, plus a 50-percent surcharge on the drug case, also were imposed.
“The monetary restitution is being dealt with in a civil lawsuit,” Langley said.
Following sentencing Thursday afternoon, Winegarden lifted a gag order imposed early on in the criminal case.