Sutherland’s murderer sentenced to 35 years
Doug and Theresa Sutherland may never get the answer to why Jasper Spires murdered their son, Kevin, on a Washington, D.C., Metro car July 4, 2015, but last Friday the Trumbull couple’s search for justice did come to an end when a district judge sentenced Spires, 21, to 35 years in prison.
“It was always in the back of our minds that Kevin was out there somewhere, and would be coming home to us,” Doug said Tuesday, Feb. 13. “But when you sit down to write victim impact statements, that’s when the reality of it all sinks in.”
The two-hour sentencing hearing, which was attended by about 40 Sutherland supporters who wore buttons and pins with Kevin’s picture, included oral victim impact statements and a tribute video made by one of Kevin’s friends. Story continues below video.
“It was the longest hearing yet, and the judge had put it at the end of her day at 2 p.m. intentionally,” said Doug. “We’ve been down there a dozen times and most of the hearings lasted about five minutes. … It was nice that they moved us into a bigger courtroom than the previous hearing, because they expected a big crowd, and gave us the necessary time to state our case as to why we thought the defendant should be given the maximum 35 years.”
Spires, who was 18 years old when he murdered the 24-year-old Sutherland, pled guilty at a hearing in October. Initially, the Washington, D.C., native had pleaded innocent. He then changed his plea to innocent by reason of insanity, and was moved to St. Elizabeths, where he underwent an extensive psychiatric evaluation to determine whether he could be held criminally responsible if found guilty.
“After numerous delays and postponements, St. Elizabeths issued their report last May stating that the defendant was suffering with some psychological issues (schizophreniform), but nothing that would prevent him from taking criminal responsibility,” Doug said.
In September, the defense accepted a plea deal.
“We got spared going through a three- to four-week trial,” Doug said. “There’s no appeal process, he’s given up that right. … He’s also given up the right to plead innocence due to insanity.”
While the Sutherlands had been preparing for weeks for the sentencing, they still were taken aback by Spires’ lucidness during both the October plea hearing and Friday’s sentencing.
“He didn’t have much to say at the plea hearing, but in his interactions with the judge, he appeared to be a bright young man,” Doug said. “It makes it harder to figure out why or how this happened.”
‘An important voice’
Doug said the defense told the judge that Spires had dropped out of college because he was suffering from mental illness during the time of Kevin’s murder, and that he was hearing voices. They argued for a 30-year sentence.
The sheer outpouring of letters and victim statements to the judge — 60 in total, including one from Congressman Jim Himes, who was a friend and former supervisor to Kevin — seemed to steer the decision in the Sutherlands’ favor.
“As a first-time candidate, I felt inspired by [Kevin’s] passion and commitment,” Himes wrote. “When I won my long-shot race, I maintained my friendship with him, offering him internships on my successive campaigns in my official office, and considered him an important voice of conscience as I went about my business serving the people of Connecticut, emailing him and meeting with him from time to time on the issues of the day. I always walked away impressed with his intellect, motivated by his passion for public service, and determined to uphold my end of the bargain to work hard to do the most good that I could in the limited time that I have. … His death shocked me and saddened me; he had much work yet to do to help us come together to makes the country a better place.”
Doug said the judge told the courtroom that she had never received so many victim impact statements.
“She said she read every single one of them, and was citing specifics from them during the hearing,” he recalled. “She talked about how eight different people wrote in claiming to be Kevin’s best friend.”
Particularly heartbreaking was a statement from Kevin’s mother Theresa, who wrote that, “I love Kevin more than myself. When he was murdered, my life lost all meaning.”
Mike Murillo, a news anchor and reporter for WTOP Radio in Washington, said the number of letters stuck out to him. He couldn’t remember covering a trial where there was so much support for the victim.
“At each hearing, you had to make sure to get there very early if you wanted a seat,” he told The Times Wednesday, Feb. 14. “Each hearing was packed with family and friends of Kevin. …
“The judge talking about how Kevin had all these people who considered him his best friend really caught my attention,” Murillo said. “But it wasn’t all the sadness you see in a typical trial. There were moments of humor where friends shared funny stories, and I think that was very telling — it painted a clear picture of who Kevin was, his impact on his friends and family, and what it meant to all of them to have this presence in their collective lives that’s now missing and gone forever. … It was hard not to feel the emotion in the room.”
Murillo noted that the judge pointed out she rarely receives letters such as the one from Himes from congressmen.
“There’s no question, the letters had an impact,” Doug added. “The judge felt like 35 years was already lenient enough, and that [Spires] would have been given a much longer sentence if it had gone to trial. …
“We’re glad to see 35 years,” Kevin’s father added. “It fits the crime.”
The Sutherlands were in favor of the plea deal because it granted them a sense of finality — a reprieve from the appeal process that could have dragged the case out for years.
“There’s no parole, either,” Doug said. “At least not for the first 30 years.”
While the Sutherlands were appreciative of being given a chance to voice their reasons for a 35-year sentence Friday, they said the one thing that left them feeling upset from the hearing — all of the hearings, in fact — was the lack of remorse shown by the defendant and his family.
“Nobody chose to speak or write letters for his character,” Doug said of his son’s murderer.
“But the thing that’s always upset us the most is that no one in his family had reached out to us or said that they were sorry.
“That’s always amazed me … these are not ignorant people. His grandma is an attorney, she testified in the Clarence Thomas case. His mother works in real estate. We found their lack of sympathy to be inexcusable.”
Adding insult to injury, Spires’ family had asked the court if they could be escorted through the back door after Friday’s hearing. Meanwhile, the Sutherlands had to face a group of reporters outside the courthouse.
“Having all the cameras and microphones waiting for us was pretty surreal,” Doug said. “It was nice, though, because it showed that people hadn’t forgotten about the case, and that they still cared. …
“A few of the reporters told us that this was as gut-wrenching as a case as they’ve ever covered,” he added. “And one commenter said on a story that ran online last week that he doesn’t use the Metro anymore because of what happened to Kevin.”
Murillo added that Sutherland’s death was the first murder to occur on a Metro train.
“While some have said this case has them concerned to ride on the Metro, it is important to note that this is the first murder on the Metro system, which transports hundreds of thousands of people each day,” he said.
What lingers more than anything after Spires’ sentencing last week is the fact he should have been detained on July 4, 2015.
“What’s most upsetting to us is the judicial system — they had him in custody two days before Kevin’s death and they released him back onto the streets,” Doug said. “That’s a huge problem, and we hope to study the system and present changes to the laws that exist. …
“He was allowed to be on the streets, even with his documented mental problems, and our son paid the price for that.”
Murillo said one of the biggest tragedies of the case was that Kevin wished in his career to help people suffering like Spires.
“It’s a very sad tale all around,” he said. “Kevin was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and this other man [Spires] clearly needed help and wasn’t treated for it. … It could have turned out a lot differently for both of them, and that leaves you wondering why it happened.”
The unanswerable question
Kevin’s murder had nothing to do with robbery and nothing to do with drugs, Doug said. The proffer of facts presented at the plea hearing stated that Spires grabbed at Kevin’s phone and immediately began to stab him. When he was done, he threw the phone and hit Kevin in the head with it. After he was arrested, drug tests showed nothing but a slight trace of regular marijuana in his system.
“The motive is unclear, and will probably remain unclear,” Doug said Tuesday. “For whatever reason, [Spires] was out to murder someone that day.
“I don’t think we’ll ever understand why that happened. … It’s just sad Kevin crossed paths with him that day.”