Mitigation hearing held for driver in fatal hit-and-run
The guardians of the man who pleaded guilty to a hit-and-run murder of a pedestrian both took the stand to testify on their grandson's behalf during his mitigation hearing on Wednesday afternoon in Yuma County Superior Court.
The purpose of the hearing, which came at the request of Joseph Dildine's attorney Michael Donovan, was to provide the defense an opportunity to present evidence as to the existence of factors that could lead to the sentence being reduced.
Donovan requested the hearing last month after Superior Court Judge David Haws, who is presiding over the case, said that he intended to sentence Dildine to 2-1/2 years in prison. Probation is also available under Dildine's plea agreement.
Dildine, 26, of Yuma, pleaded guilty to one count of leaving the scene of an accident in the July 3, 2012 fatal hit-and-run of 19-year-old pedestrian Christopher Humbert, whose body was found lying in the road. He later admitted that he had been drinking beer, whiskey and rum before the incident, and a records check revealed that he was driving on a suspended license at the time.
When asked, Lorena Dildine said she feels her son deserves to be punished for his actions but added that she didn't what to see him go to prison for it.
“If I thought it was deliberate, then yes. But I know darn well that it wasn't deliberate,” Lorena Dildine said. “I worry about him all the time. I know he is scared to go to prison.”
She went on to say that she visited her son at least twice a week while he was in jail and that they have talked often about how remorseful he is for what happened that morning.
“He doesn't think he will ever be able to get over it.” Lorena Dildine said. “He has told me that if he gets probation he will have to change his whole life, and he says he is ready to do that.”
“This is going to haunt Joe forever,” said Lorena's husband, Donald Dildine.
Lorena and Donald Dildine also spoke about the difficult circumstances of their son's life and how he has been suffering from severe depression for many years.
Lorena and Donald Dildine are Joseph's grandparents, and they talked about how they brought him home from the hospital the day he was born and raised him themselves because his biological mother did not want him and planned to give him up for adoption. They legally adopted him themselves about six months later and raised them as their son.
They also talked about how his mother, who is drug addict and alcoholic, has not been a part of his life and that he never knew his father. They said that it was about the time their son was in junior high school that they noticed he started to show signs of depression.
That depression, they said, worsened over the years and their son, who lived in a guest house on the property, began to isolate himself from the rest of the family and the only time he would come out of his room was to leave, and that was usually after they went to bed.
“I don't know what happened,” Lorena said. “Its like he started withdrawing inside himself. He didn't seem as outgoing as he used to be.”
Things got worse, Lorena said, after their son's relationship with his longtime girlfriend ended. She said the depression seemed to have become worse, and that was when he started drinking heavily and began using marijuana.
The mitigation hearing will continue on Feb. 27 at 2 p.m.
Yuma police responded to a report of a man down in the 3800 block of West 24th Street at about 4:21 a.m. on July 3 and found Humbert's body lying in the road. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
The initial investigation revealed that he had been struck by a vehicle between approximately 4 and 4:21 a.m. Police said they had an approximate time because he was dropped off in the area by someone.
Evidence at the scene indicated that the vehicle involved may have been a 2002 or newer full-sized gray or another light color Dodge pickup, possibly with four doors. The vehicle also had a front license plate of an American flag and bald eagle and possible damage in the center of the front bumper, grill and hood.
Yuma police arrested Dildine at about 11:23 a.m. on July 11 when an off-duty Yuma police officer spotted a vehicle matching the suspect's vehicle in the 4600 block of West Sharon Lane.
According to court records, on the morning of the incident, Dildine was driving westbound on 24th Street approaching Avenue C when he struck Humbert, who was standing in the center line street markings.
Court records also indicated that, when questioned by police, Dildine said he initially thought he had hit a curb. It wasn't until the following morning, when he saw the amount of damage to his pickup, that he thought he might have hit someone.
It was also indicated in court records that even after he learned Yuma police were looking for the driver who was involved, Dildine did not contact authorities.