FAIRFAX, Va. — The family of a young woman killed by a former D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commission chairperson in a fiery DWI wreck in Fairfax County is accusing prosecutors of mishandling the case.
Judge John Tran ordered Devon Lesesne to serve four years in prison on Friday after he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter late last year.
He imposed a 10-year sentence but suspended six of them, which is above the sentencing guidelines.
The Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney wanted Lesesne to serve the full 10 years in prison. Since Lesesne already spent a year in jail, he would only have to actively spend three years behind bars followed by a 10-year supervised probation.
Lesesne was driving drunk and going upwards of 99 mph with a blood alcohol content level of .196 in March 2022, per authorities. He was traveling on I-495 near the Fairfax Connector Parkway when he slammed into the vehicle of 20-year-old Katherine Reyes.
Reyes was stranded on the side of the road due to a flat tire. She had her hazard lights on and flares activated when she was hit.
“It’s always a tragedy when someone dies, and there are several factors in this case that made it especially egregious,” Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said. “Because the defendant was driving in the shoulder, at a high speed, with an elevated BAC, and the victim had her lights on, we felt this warranted a higher sentence than the guidelines and made our recommendation appropriately.”
The family is now saying they wanted the higher charge of aggravated involuntary manslaughter, which imposed a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Under Virginia law, an aggravated involuntary manslaughter charge qualifies if the “conduct of the defendant was so gross, wanton and culpable as to show a reckless disregard for human life.”
“Everything fit him being charged with aggravated involuntary manslaughter,” her stepfather Jonathan Knight said. “They told us time and time again that that's not the best route only to come into court and the judge tell the prosecution, basically, that's what they should've charged him on. [Lesesne] still gets to hold his son and still gets to walk around the streets. It's not fair. It's not right. We were lied to."
In a response to WUSA9, a spokesperson for the office said the commonwealth's attorney's office had multiple conversations with the family. She said accountability was clearly important.
“With this in mind, our office pursued an agreement in which the defendant accepted responsibility for the incident and that still allowed prosecutors to pursue a high sentence for manslaughter,” a statement read. “Despite the Commonwealth’s recommendation of the maximum 10 years, the judge sentenced just four years of active jail time, an indication that a higher charge was not appropriate.”
The prosecutor tried to argue that the circumstances of the incident were enough to meet the maximum sentence.
However, Judge Tran believed handing down the maximum was not appropriate.
During the sentencing, Tran asked the victim's stepfather if she would forgive Lesesne. He responded by saying she would want justice more than anything. Tran also asked the defense to have two more people testify about growing up in Ward 8, where Lesesne is from, to discuss the hardships he endured. In addition, he asked Lesesne to take the stand so he could ask his own questions.
Tran further questioned the prosecutor and asked if the circumstances were so severe, why not pursue a 20-year sentence as an aggravated involuntary manslaughter charge? By pleading guilty, Lesesne avoided a trial and extending the case.
However, the Reyes family said justice has not been served despite the sentence.
“I don't think giving this man four years, one year credited, is going to change anything,” her mother Esmeralda Reyes told WUSA9. “I am not happy with this at all.”
Another family member said he felt the case was mishandled.
Prior to the victim impact statements, the judge also criticized the prosecutor for not giving enough information about Reyes before the sentencing.
The defense argued Lesesne deserves punishment but his commitment to helping others in the community should also be considered. His attorney requested a two-year prison sentence instead.