Outraged by the 2- to 6-year sentence that is being recommended for the driver in an October hit-and-run that killed John Judge, the victim's friends and supporters are planning a Monday protest.
The gathering will take place in Amagansett at 7 p.m. at the very place John Judge's lifeless body was found, across from Astro's Pizza, near Decorum. They are calling the effort "Justice for John."
Known as JJ, the 61-year-old was crossing Main Street on the night of Oct. 23 when he was struck by a passing motorist who left the scene. Three-and-a-half months later, East Hampton Town police arrested Edward Orr, a 30-year-old from Montauk. Last week, Orr pleaded guilty to two felonies — leaving the scene of an accident with a fatality and criminal tampering with physical evidence — as well as a violation of his probation on a previous felony charge.
In exchange for his plea, the Suffolk County District Attorney's office will recommend 2 to 6 years of incarceration in an upstate prison. Judge's best friend of 42 years, Tony Lupo, and his wife Alison Lupo, said they feel as if Orr is "getting away with murder", especially since Orr staged a second accident to explain the damage to his Jeep and never came forward on his own.
"That just doesn’t justify the crime that this man committed," said Jule Ann O'Brien, who grew up with Lupos and knew Judge. She and Debbie Astorr Weir, another friend, came up with the idea to gather and start a petition in protest. They are calling it both a rally and a vigil.
"We need to make our voices be heard," O'Brien said. "The police worked very, very hard to have an air-tight case and to have the DA plead it down to such a minimal sentence — to me, it’s not acceptable."
The hope is, she said, that presiding Judge William Condon will reconsider.
Allison Lupo said nearly 100 people have already signed a petition they put out her family's restaurant, Astro's Pizza, on Friday. Petitions are also available for people to sign at Springs Fireplace Hardware & Video and 27 Inn, she said, adding that she will send them to the district attorney's office before the sentencing on April 24.
A Facebook group called “Justice for John" has gained 412 members in less than 24 hours.
"This is just not right — not only for John, but for any other hit-and-run victim," Allison Lupo said.
Orr pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in a death, a class D felony punishable up to 7 years in prison, and tampering with physical evidence, a class E felony punishable by up to 4 years. A misdemeanor criminal mischief charge, which like the criminal tampering charge is related to an accident to his Jeep, was dismissed in satisfaction of his plea.
Even with a five-page confession, prosecutors were hard pressed to file more serious charges than the top charge of leaving the scene of an accident. In recent months, District Attorney Thomas Spota joined state legislators who have called for stiffer penalties for hit-and-run drivers.
Proposed legislation — which passed the State Senate on Feb. 11 — would ensure more punishment for drivers who leave an accident, upgrading the crime of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in a death from a class D felony to a class C felony, which has a maximum prison time of 15 years. Other types of hit-and-run offenses would also be upgraded.
The bill, which is now before the assembly, was created in the wake of the death of Erika Hughes, a 24-year-old mother from Mastic, who was killed in a July 2011 hit-and-run. The 48-year-old driver, Preston Mimms, a three-time felon, was caught 10 months later and pleaded guilty in December and received a sentence of one-and-a-third to four years in prison, according to News 12. The district attorney's office recommended 2 to 7 years for Mimms. Lawrance Opisso, the assistant district attorney who handed the case, is the same ADA prosecuting the case against Orr.
Hughes' family was outraged by the sentence and vowed to push for harsher penalties. Drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol can actually avoid tougher sentences if they leave an accident as it becomes difficult to prove a driver was intoxicated in the weeks and months that follow a crash.
In Orr's case, his attorney was able to prove that he was not driving under the influence because he just left Phoenix House, an outpatient program, when the accident occurred.
Those who want to attend the rally on Monday are asked to bring their own candles, although they will also be provided.
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