A Lawrence man convicted of second-degree murder for the April 2022 drunk-driving crash that resulted in the death of John T. Kirby was sentenced on Wednesday to more than 10 years in prison — a year and a half longer than what prosecutors had recommended.
Anthony M. Royal, 56, pleaded guilty in August as part of an agreement with the Douglas County district attorney’s office. In exchange for the plea, Royal was granted a recommendation for downward durational departure, or shorter sentence, for second-degree murder as well as his third conviction for driving under the influence.
Courts are not bound by recommendations, however, and Douglas County District Judge Amy Hanley returned a sentence that added 21 months to Royal’s recommended incarceration.
Three of Kirby’s granddaughters spoke to the court prior to sentencing. Samantha Torres, Alex Mische and Sara Hegeman all shared stories about their grandfather’s loving nature, infectious laughter and dedication to family.
“Our entire lives have been changed forever,” Hegeman said. “I have absolutely no sympathy for Anthony. He deserves nothing less than spending the rest of his days thinking about the pain he has caused our family.”
The DA’s office worked with defense attorney Dakota Loomis to reach the plea agreement, in which both parties recommended a 102-month sentence (8.5 years) for the murder conviction. Had the case gone to trial, a judge or jury would have had the option to find Royal guilty of involuntary manslaughter, which is a lesser charge that would have come with a shorter sentence.
According to the crash report, Royal was exiting K-10 at Bob Billings Parkway in a Dodge Ram and failed to stop at the top of the ramp, hitting Kirby’s BMW SUV. Kirby, who was 70 years old, was taken to Lawrence Memorial Hospital but did not survive the crash. Royal, who was reportedly found crawling away from his burning vehicle, had two broken legs and was taken to Stormont Vail Health in Topeka.
Royal’s blood alcohol level was .11, which is above the legal limit of .08. Because of a prior DUI conviction, at the time of the crash Royal was restricted to driving a vehicle with an ignition interlock device. However, that device was on another vehicle rather than the truck, Royal told investigators.
After the crash, Royal told investigators that his brakes had felt “spongy” and a dashboard light warning of problems with the electronic braking system had appeared. Because of the vehicle fire, investigators were unable to substantiate his claims. Prior to sentencing on Wednesday, Loomis submitted paperwork from a repair shop detailing work that had been done to the wheels and tires of Royal’s truck prior to the incident.
Royal, who appeared in court in a wheelchair, said he had recently had surgery on his ankles. He read a statement calling himself a “functional alcoholic,” and he apologized to Kirby’s family. He said he had brought shame upon himself and his children.
“I’ve reached the basement of rock bottom,” he read. “If only I wouldn’t have stopped at the bar. If only I’d taken a different route. If only my brake light had come on sooner. If only.”
Hanley was shown family photographs of Kirby, listened to family members’ statements, and heard an explanation from both Loomis and Chief Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Tatum regarding how the plea agreement had been reached. After a 10-minute recess, Hanley returned with a sentence of 123 months.
“I have a defendant in front of me who has multiple driving under the influence convictions,” Hanley said. “For that reason I do not agree that the requested sentence is the appropriate one. There is no number I could impose that could undo the damage that has been done to Mr. Kirby’s family.”
Royal will serve a 12-month sentence for the DUI conviction concurrently, or at the same time as his 123-month sentence. He is eligible for a 15% credit for good time and will be given credit for the 380 days he has already been detained. When his sentence ends, he will have 36 months of post-release supervision and must register as a violent offender for 15 years. He will also pay a fine of $1,750.
“Mr. Royal, my sentence is not a reflection of who you are as a person, but of your actions on that day,” Hanley said. “You need to recognize that damage. There has to be accountability for actions like this.”
Kirby was a local insurance agent for more than 30 years. Daughter Lora Hegeman said her father frequently mentioned the dangers of drinking and driving when recommending life insurance to his clients.
“He always said you never know when you might be killed by a drunk driver,” she said.
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