Three days ago Joseph Carroll sat where Allyson Bennett was sitting this morning, at the defendant’s table before Circuit Judge Terence Perkins. Carroll and Bennett had sold the fentanyl-laced heroin to 31-year-old Michael Burnett Jr. in June 2018. Burnett overdosed and died. He was 31.
Carroll and Bennett were charged with first-degree murder. They each faced life in prison without parole if convicted at trial. They both pleaded to manslaughter. Carroll on Tuesday was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Bennett today got 8 years, even though the prosecution considers them both “equally culpable” for Burnett’s death, in the words of Assistant State Attorney Mark Johnson.
The difference in punishment? Bennett cooperated with prosecutors to ensure the conviction of Carroll–the father of a child they have in common–and, a former paramedic and emergency room tech, she has re-become a “healer,” as her attorney described her, thriving in an addiction-recovery program at the Flagler County jail while helping others.
The sentencing was the latest in a growing list of convictions in Flagler County of individuals responsible for selling drugs that led to fatal overdoses. It was also a reflection of the breadth and severity of a drug-addiction crisis whose toll continues to extend well beyond even the lives it claims.
As a judge, Perkins has sought to impose sentences that balance the law’s demand for punishment–and community protection–with some degree of attenuation of that broader toll. Today he appeared to struggle to get to that point as he looked by various means to temper the severity of the term. But in the end he couldn’t go with the defense’s request to limit the sentence to five years.
“Every sentence is different. every sentence is unique to the person and every sentence reflects the specific facts and circumstances of that case. And that’s why I was trying to get as best I could a good sense for exactly what it is that Ms. Bennett is alleged to have done,” Perkins said, “not just what law she broke but exactly how she did it and in what circumstance, and how that compares to Mr. Carroll. And I asked many of the same questions. This is really a difficult chore for the court because there’s really nothing I’m going to do today that is going to help” Burnett’s father, who had addressed the court on behalf of his family earlier.
Burnett’s father had not spoken harshly or even asked for a specific sentence. He had simply asked that those responsible for his son’s death face the consequences.
Daniel Hilbert, the defense attorney, had marshaled two witnesses on Bennett’s behalf, including Danielle Moye-Auriemma, a peer support specialist with Epic Behavioral Healthcare, which provides addiction recovery services at the jail and through drug court. “She is a tremendous asset, she does help the program a lot,” Moye-Auriemma said of Bennett, citing her graduation in December from the jail’s addiction recovery program, called Smart (Successful Mental Health & Addiction Recovery Treatment).
Bennett’s father, who is 73, described how he has to keep working at his age because of what took place with his daughter, and from having to take care of her troubled, autistic teen-age son, who has become angry and difficult to control since being separated from his mother.
Bennett herself addressed the court, apologizing to Burnett’s family (several of his family members were in the courtroom) and describing her way out of addiction. “The Allison standing her today is not the same person I wasn’t in 2018. I was a shell of a human. Today I’m a person in recovery. I’m a mentor, a daughter, a sister, a mother. I’m a person that suffers from the disease that tells me I don’t have a disease.” She said she wants to continue helping others and “show women they are worthy and don’t have to suffer,” before apologizing again.
But it was her attorney who pleaded most forcefully to the court, speaking of his client as if she were a family member or a close friend. “The Allyson Bennett that I know is a healer, not a killer,” Hilbert said, summarizing Bennett’s life before her addiction. She’d graduated Daytona State College, becoming a paramedic, working at Halifax hospital’s ER, then working in veterinary offices, before a head-on car crash with a dump truck left her severely injured–and thrown into the spiral of “pain management” at a time when doctors routinely (and often criminally, though few have been punished) prescribed narcotics with abandon. Bennett became addicted.
While the Burnett case was being investigated, she sobered up.
“That’s your focus. her drive and motivation to be sober is a combination of two things,” her attorney argued to the court. “Number one, she wants to atone for what she did and the part she played in Mr. Burnett’s death. And number two, she wants to be there for her children, and prove to everyone and herself that she could be the person that you were permitting her to be.” Hilbert’s overt flattery of the judge was in reference to Bennett’s drug arrests around the time of Burnett’s death, before her indictment, when she was placed on probation and began her recovery.
Johnson, the prosecutor, had made clear that he was not seeking the full 15 years Bennett could serve.
“it’s great that Ms. Bennett has done something in the jail to help herself and to help other people,” Johnson said, but Burnett will never have a chance to live his life as Bennett will, and in the end, the prosecutor said, the sentence has to reflect what happened, and Bennett’s responsibility in that. Five years in prison, he said, “is not appropriate.”
The minimum of the guidelines was just under 10 years.
Perkins was as if searching for his customary self-assurance. He repeatedly rested his chin on clasped hands, paused, pursed his lips, asked far more questions of the prosecution than he usually does, so that by the time he described the sentencing as “a difficult case,” it seemed to be an understatement.
The questions he wanted answered most could not be answered beyond what the prosecution could deduce. He wanted to know the difference in responsibility levels between Bennett and Carroll. It was as if he was looking to assign a percentage of responsibility to each. Wasn’t that why the case was delayed this long, he asked–to give the prosecution time to determine just such questions, and ensure that Bennett was sentenced appropriately?
But Johnson could only tell him that both Bennett and Carroll had a role in brokering the fatal drug deal, though Carroll had gone to Daytona Beach to secure the drugs from his dealer.
The eight years Perkins imposed is a slight downward departure from the minimum recommended in the guidelines. Bennett will also have 1,102 days she has already served at the jail credited to her prison time. That’s three years, reducing her time in state prison to five years. Add to that “gain time,” or early release, after serving 85 percent of a sentence, for good behavior, and Bennett’s sentence is reduced to six years and eight months–or three years and eight months, with jail credit.
Bennett had sat at the defendant’s table for the duration of the two-hour hearing until the end, crying most of the time, rocking back and forth, holding her head in her handcuffed hands, taking tissue after tissue from the box next to her. She was then fingerprinted in accordance with Department of Corrections requirements, and ushered out through the inmates’ side door, to go back to the county jail for a few days before she is transferred into the state prison system.
Elizabeth Rose says
Its so very sad to see everyone I know either dying or in a d out of jail and rehab. It’s awful bc I never realized how many people I would lose in that lifestyle. I just thought, well I’m not dead. But here’s the thing, I wasn’t far off. It’s not an ” if” something horrible happens, it’s a “when” something horrible happens. A virtual guarantee that you will die, or go to prison for your habit. I’ve known Allyson for years. She’s compassionate, kind, introverted, and pensive. She’s not a bad person by any stretch and I know she’s continually devastated to be responsible for someone’s death. To the parents of the young man, I’m so sorry that you’re having to endure the loss of your child. That’s not fair, I am sorry you don’t get to see him move through life. I wish there was something profound I could say, but I’m coming up short. I hope that he brings people into recovery through his spirit, that maybe someone will hear this story and get into treatment. This is a total loss and ruination of lives, tragic all the way around. If you’re struggling with addiction, get help! You don’t have to live like that!
I completely agree. Aly is really not the type of person who should be given this sentence, considering her two sons. I was incarcerated with her and she was ALWAYS going out of her way to help the officers, other women, help counsel those who needed it, and was a great person all around if you look at the details of the case, it’s ridiculous. I don’t know any drug addict that holds onto a small amount of drugs for 12 hours and doesn’t do it. He obviously got it from someone else