It’s been more than 25 months since Dr. Ronald Shlensky, one of the country’s most well-known psychiatrists, was struck and killed in a hit-and-run collision.
After many twists in the case of Heather Hulsey, the drunk driver behind the wheel of the vehicle that killed him, Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa on Monday recalled Hulsey’s sentence of six years and four months in state prison. Instead, he has her five years probation because she is pregnant. “It was the right decision,” said public defender Mindy Boulet after the hearing, declining to speak much more about the case.
In the meantime, the mother-to-be-who is due on September 21-will enter Prototypes Women’s Center in Ventura, a residential treatment program for women and their children. Her entry into that program follows a rejection from the state Department of Corrections Community Prisoner Mother Program, even though officials there had previously indicated she would be admitted. “We were assured she would qualify,” Arnis Tolks, senior deputy district attorney, told the court Monday. “It’s absurd she didn’t get into this program because I think she clearly qualifies.”
Policy prohibits violent offenders from entering the program. While it isn’t entirely clear why she wasn’t admitted, Tolks said a letter to him from the state indicated Hulsey possibly didn’t meet all criteria. While he didn’t believe she was a violent offender-drunk driving constitutes a negligent, not a violent one-those running the state prison program thought otherwise.
Hulsey was arrested more than a week after the death of the 71-year-old founder of the American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry. A woman testified at Hulsey’s preliminary hearing that she was on the phone with Hulsey, who yelled out during the conversation that she thought she had just hit someone but later told the caller she hadn’t. The witness and others also testified to seeing Hulsey intoxicated earlier that night at a Montecito Country Club pool. In court Monday, Tolks alleged that Hulsey went to great lengths to cover up the collision, having her Toyota 4Runner taken to Ventura for repairs.
While her case made its way to trial, UCSB police arrested Hulsey for public intoxication at an outdoor concert in May 2007. Ochoa raised her bail and Hulsey spent a month in jail before being sent to Casa Serena for treatment. While at Casa Serena, the prosecutor said Monday, Hulsey missed a number of sobriety tests.
Just before the case was slated to go to trial in December 2007, Hulsey pled no contest to vehicular manslaughter while driving under the influence without gross negligence and also to fleeing the scene of an accident while knowing someone was injured. In February, Ochoa sentenced Hulsey to six years and four months in prison. But with 120 days to file a motion for a new sentence, the defense requested one on the 119th day, Tolks said, with Hulsey’s pregnancy as the reason for the motion. Though she hadn’t revealed the pregnancy prior to that date, given her due date, it is reasonable to assume she knew she was pregnant at the time of the February sentencing.
During the July hearing, Ochoa himself had looked into Hulsey’s potential admittance into the pregnancy program. On Monday, he appeared frustrated by the wrong information he had received from the Department of Corrections. Regardless, he indicated that she would be in residential treatment for about a year, and then in another facility for two more years, which adds up to half the time she would’ve served in prison. “If she’s on probation she’s going to spend the same amount of time in a similar program,” Ochoa said.
Tolks argued that Hulsey’s crime deserved a prison sentence and claimed the revised sentence sets a terrible precedent of women getting pregnant to avoid punishment. He went as far as to suggest that Hulsey, whom he called manipulative and irresponsible, may chosen to become pregnant. “I can’t say I doubt it,” he said. That implication by Tolks was “completely outrageous,” Boulet said, explaining that Hulsey had been living in fear for much of the past year. But supporters of Shlensky’s family agreed. “The message is that pregnancy gets you out of prison,” said Ronald Movich, a family friend.