Driver pleads guilty to negligent homicide in Bow crash that killed Tyler Shaw

  • Joseph Leonard Jr. is led into Merrimack County Superior Court by his two lawyers on Thursday for his plea to felony charges of negligent homicide and aggravated driving while intoxicated.

  • Attorney Jim Rosenberg explains the plea deal on the table for Joseph Leonard to the family and friends of Tyler Shaw outside courtroom one at the Superior Court on Thursday. The April 2018 crash that killed Tyler Shaw off Interstate 89 in Bow marked the third time that police had arrested the now-37-year-old for drunken driving. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Chris Shaw (center in white) reacts with friends and family upon learning about the specifics of the plea deal for Joseph Leonard Jr. to felony charges of negligent homicide and aggravated driving while intoxicated in connection with Tyler Shaw’s death in 2018. (From left) Nick Shaw, Brennan Haywood, Tyler’s best friend Nate Engel, Tyler’s father, Chris, and Colleen Earley stand together in court on Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Beth Shaw listens to attorney Jim Rosenberg explain the plea deal in place for Joseph Leonard at the Merrimack County Superior Court on Thursday morning, September 19, 2019. “It gives us a little peace that he is finally in handcuffs,” Beth said of Leonard after the hearing in Concord. But she and her husband, Chris, are hoping for more prison time. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 9/19/2019 4:50:19 PM

The driver that killed 20-year-old Tyler Shaw had a blood alcohol content of twice the legal limit around the time of the fatal crash on April 30, 2018.

Approximately five hours later, Joseph Leonard Jr., who remained hospitalized, underwent an additional blood test that showed his blood alcohol concentration had finally dropped to the legal limit of .08%, prosecutors said.

The crash that killed Shaw off Interstate 89 in Bow marked the third time that police had arrested Leonard, now 37, for drunken driving. Leonard was first arrested as a teenager. And just eight years ago, his impairment caused an accident in which he was injured.

Leonard pleaded guilty Thursday to felony charges of negligent homicide and aggravated driving while intoxicated in connection with Shaw’s death and faces years in prison. For the first time since prosecutors filed charges, Leonard was handcuffed by sheriff’s deputies in Merrimack County Superior Court. Per an agreement, he surrendered to state custody after a judge revoked his bail.

For Beth and Chris Shaw, that moment is one they’ve hoped for as they continue to fight for justice for their son.

“It gives us a little peace that he is finally in handcuffs,” Beth said of Leonard after the hearing in Concord. “He has hidden behind the law for 18 months. We’ve known he’s guilty and he’s known he is guilty.”

Leonard was impaired when he failed to stop at a stop sign at the end of Interstate 89 Exit 1 off-ramp and collided with Shaw’s truck on Logging Hill Road. The crash caused Shaw’s truck to roll over onto the driver’s side, partially ejecting him, police said. Shaw, a 2015 Concord High School graduate, was killed instantly.

Although Leonard began serving his sentence Thursday, a judge will not weigh in on the plea deal he reached with prosecutors for two weeks. At a hearing on Oct. 4, the prosecution and the defense will each have a chance to put forward a sentencing recommendation that Judge Richard McNamara could approve or reject. Family members will also have their chance to address the court for the first time since Shaw’s death.

Assistant County Attorney Carley Ahern said she will recommend a sentence of five to 10 years on the negligent homicide charge and a concurrent sentence of 3½ to seven years on the aggravated DWI charge. Leonard would be eligible to have his minimum five-year sentence reduced by 120 days if he successfully completes a substance abuse program while incarcerated. He would be prohibited from reapplying for a driver’s license for 15 years.

Defense attorneys Jaye Ann Duncan and Mariana Dominguez did not say Thursday what their recommendation will be to the court.

Beth Shaw said outside the courthouse that the proposal from the Merrimack County Attorney’s Office is too lenient, especially given Leonard’s criminal history. She said Leonard was previously ordered to engage in substance abuse treatment and yet the programs didn’t prohibit him from driving drunk again on April 30, 2018, the night of her son’s death.

“Why are we giving him a gold star for something he already did twice before unsuccessfully? If anyone deserves the maximum sentence, he certainly does and his record dictates that,” Beth Shaw said.

Early on, the Shaw family sought the assistance of a lawyer to help them understand the criminal justice process and ensure their voices are heard. Attorney Jim Rosenberg, who is representing the Shaws, appeared in court Thursday and answered questions from family members on the courthouse steps after the hearing.

On the outskirts of that conversation, Beth Shaw teared up as she reflected on the challenges of the last 18 months.

“When you lose your child, the only thing you have is justice,” she said. “It shouldn’t be so hard to find.”

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319 or at adandrea@cmonitor.com.)


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