Driver sentenced to six years in prison for death of Tyler Shaw 

  • Joseph Leonard, Jr. is led into Merrimack County Superior Court for his sentencing hearing on Friday, October 4, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • ABOVE: Joseph Leonard Jr. is led into Merrimack County Superior Court for his sentencing hearing on Friday.

  • Beth Shaw speaks directly to Joseph Leonard, Jr. as she gives her victim impact statement with her husband, telling Leonard what it has been like since her son, Tyler was killed im 2017 and the impact it has on her and her family on Friday, October 4, 2019 at Merrimack County Superior Court. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Beth Shaw gets up to read her victim impact statement during Joseph Leonard’s sentencing hearing on Friday, October 4, 2019 at Merrimack County Superior Court. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • RIGHT: Beth Shaw is comforted by her father, David Hickey, after giving her victim impact statement during the sentencing hearing on Friday.

  • Friends and family raise their hands when asked by Keith Hickey who would be willing to trade places with Tyler Shaw at the sentencing hearing of Joseph Leonard, Jr. at Merrimack County Superior Court on Friday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/4/2019 7:22:57 PM

So many of Tyler Shaw’s friends and family came to Merrimack County Superior Court that the clerk was taking a headcount to ensure the crowd’s size didn’t break fire codes.

Shaw’s parents, grandparents, brother, former teachers, friends and co-workers sat in rows all wearing ribbons decorated with red for drunk driving awareness and camouflage in honor of Tyler’s love for fishing. They held posters of him visiting his best friend Nate in Montana, posing with his parents after a lacrosse game, standing outside his beloved black truck – the same truck he was driving the night he was killed. 

Only four of them addressed the judge, but they spoke for many.

“This proceeding is our last hope that the Merrimack County justice system does the right thing and provides the justice that Tyler deserves by imposing a sentence to Joseph Leonard that may make somebody in the future think twice about driving drunk,” Tyler’s uncle, Keith Hickey, said. 

In addition to Hickey, Tyler’s grandfather, his mother and one of his closest friends all asked Judge Richard McNamara for the same thing: To reject the plea deal in front and impose a stronger sentence on Joseph Leonard Jr. 

In the end, the judge recognized the family’s plea and sentenced the man who killed Shaw to an extra year in jail. 

Joseph Leonard, 37 of Derry, was sentenced to six- to 12 years in the New Hampshire State Prison. He will be eligible to have his sentence shortened by six months if he undergoes drug treatment and education programming. 

Leonard will not be able to get his license renewed until 10 years after he is released. If and when he does drive again, he will have to use an ignition interlock device, which requires drivers to take a sobriety test before their car will start.

Leonard pleaded guilty on Sept. 19 to felony charges of negligent homicide and aggravated driving while intoxicated in connection with  Shaw’s death.

Assistant County Attorney Carley Ahern recommended 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. A five-year prison sentence was previously agreed to by attorneys, Tyler’s mom, Beth Shaw, said.

However, she didn’t think the deal was fair given Leonard’s history of drunken driving. The crash that killed Shaw off Interstate 89 in Bow on April, 30, 2018 marked the third time that police had arrested Leonard 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.

Tyler’s put up an electronic sign on Logging Hill Road at the site where 20-year-old  Shaw was killed. “3 DWI, 1 FATAL, 5 YR PLEA?” it read. 

“If the murder of my 20-year-old son by a man whose driving record is littered with drunk driving crimes does not deserve the maximum sentence lawmakers assign the charge of negligent homicide, who does?” Beth Shaw asked McNamara. “How many people does a man need to kill to serve seven and a half years? Have we become complacent enough to think Tyler's young life does not deserve the maximum sentence?” 

“Please do not let Mr. Leonard’s history be repeated,” Beth Shaw added. “Please do not let our history be repeated. Too many innocent people are dying at the hands of drunk drivers.” 

The maximum sentence for negligent homicide is 7 ½ to 15 years. 

McNamara said Leonard’s history of driving intoxicated was a major factor in raising his sentence. 

“It wasn’t a homicide, but it wasn't an accident. It was a tragedy," McNamara said. “The aggravating factors are of course, this is a third DWI with an interlock violation.” 

“I thought the sentence, while in the ballpark, was slightly below what I think is appropriate,” McNamara said, of the sentence proposed by attorneys. 

Leonard said he chose not to allow his family and friends to speak on his behalf out of respect for the Shaw family. He sat silently in his chair and looked down at the table in front of him. His attorneys passed him Kleenex when he began to cry. His hands were cuffed in front of him, so he couldn’t reach. 

“I’m not here today to make excuses, or to ask for forgiveness, not because I don’t seek forgiveness, but because I know my actions are unforgivable. I am here today to accept the responsibility and punishments for my actions as a parent, significant other, sibling, uncle and friend myself. I can’t begin to imagine what Tyler Shaw’s friends and family have had to go through because of my actions,” Leonard said.

“I can completely understand why they would see a five-year prison sentence not being justice for Tyler Shaw. But I can promise that no amount of prison time will compare in any way to the guilt, mental and emotional sentence I will continue to put myself through every single day for the rest of my life,” Leonard said. “Every time I close my eyes, I re-live that night, moment by moment in slow motion and when I finally wake up and look at myself in the mirror, I know that I’m the person responsible for cutting short Tyler Shaw’s life short and destroying a family. To say that I’m sorry, regretful, remorseful and ashamed with myself would be a complete understatement.” 

Others who spoke to the judge continued to express the profound loss they’ve experienced since Tyler’s death. 

“In life and death, Tyler has brought us all together. You see these people behind me? They’re here because of the immense impact Tyler had on their lives. I can assure you that there are many, many more people,” said Lexi Demetriou, who graduated with Shaw from Concord High School in 2015. 

“Tyler was one of those friends that you knew you would have for the rest of your life,” she added.

Tyler’s grandfather David spoke about Tyler’s willingness to lend a hand to those in need, to stand by his family, his zest for life. 

 “He was a fine young man who worked hard and wanted to make the world a better place. He lived his life to the fullest, loved and cared deeply for his family and cherished true friendships. He left a positive impression on all those who truly knew him,” he said.  “No one else should  h ave to go through what our  family and Tyler’s friend s  have gone through for the past 18 months.” 

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