Man gets 20 years in prison for murders of Huntsville mother, child

The man who pleaded guilty to two counts of murder in a DUI case that left Denetria Rice-Johnson and ultimately her baby dead has been sentenced.

Posted: May. 16, 2019 2:39 PM
Updated: May. 16, 2019 4:14 PM

The man who pleaded guilty to two counts of murder in a DUI case that left Denetria Rice-Johnson and ultimately her baby dead has been sentenced.

"Mr. Hammond took full responsibility early on in this matter for what happened in this very tragic accident," Defense Attorney Reta McKannan said.

Dennis Hammond was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in prison for both counts of murder. Those sentences will be served concurrently. He also received a $15,000 fine and must pay court costs and restitutions.

Hammond had three prior DUI convictions. The judge told Hammond when he made the decision to get behind the wheel while under the influence, he might as well have had a loaded gun.

She also said that even though he took responsibility, none of that will bring back the two people who died.

"It's great to have closure, but like the judge said, there's no winning or losing in this situation," Tatayana Rice, the victim's sister, said.

Huntsville police said Hammond was under the influence when he crossed into oncoming traffic on Jordan Lane and hit Rice-Johnson head-on in July 2017.

The 29-year-old Rice-Johnson was rushed to Huntsville Hospital where she later died. 

Rice-Johnson was 8 months pregnant during the accident. Authorities say doctors delivered the baby, but it was in critical condition. The baby survived only a few days before dying.

"The overall thing is bittersweet. It's sweet because it's over, but it's bitter because you still have those very raw emotions from when you first heard the news," the victim's sister, Tatayana Rice, said.

The family says their lives will forever be changed.

"I feel as though there is no amount of time that can make up for what my sister's life and her child's life would have been," Rice said.

Hammond does have a right to appeal, but at this time, it is unclear whether he will do so.

Hammond's defense attorney says she does not believe the sentencing would have been that much different if Hammond did have a trial. She added that everything in the trial was as fair as it could have been.

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