A Camp Pendleton United States Marine Corp Lance Cpl. was sentenced today to 15 years to life in prison for killing a physician and seriously hurting his wife in a California DUI crash in Newport Beach nearly two years ago.
Elijah Leigh Ferguson, 22, of Santa Ana, apologized to the family of Dr. Michael Sein, who died in the Feb. 22, 2008, crash, and his widow, Grace, who still suffers headaches and other pain from the accident.
"I'm sorry for what I did and for what I did not do," Ferguson said, referring to his failure to keep to his plan to sleep off his inebriation at Camp Pendleton before going home to his wife, Carla, and then-newborn son, Kenneth.
The Sein family had sought the maximum 21-year term for Ferguson while California DUI defense attorney Stephen Womack pushed for probation, saying it would allow his his client to receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder at a San Diego facility run by a veteran.
Superior Court Judge Ronald Bauer went with the lesser sentence recommended by Deputy District Attorney Susan Price for Ferguson, who was convicted Dec. 9 of second-degree murder and DUI driving charges.
Womack argued during the trial that Ferguson should not be convicted of murder because he developed PTSD after serving in Iraq.
Ferguson got drunk playing drinking games after a day of work at the Marine base in northern San Diego County and had planned to sleep it off but got into an argument with his wife, who had threatened to divorce him, according to testimony.
His buddies had taken his keys to prevent him from driving home to Orange County, but about 11 p.m., he convinced a private to drive him home. When they got to the car, though, Ferguson pulled rank and bullied the other Marine into turning over the keys.
He got lost on the way home and was speeding east on MacArthur Boulevard at 74 mph when his Dodge Cavalier slammed into the back of the victim's Aston Martin at Jamboree Road.
"Mr. Ferguson not only killed my husband, but he also killed me," Grace Sein told the judge.
She said she is now "terrified" to get into a car, either as a driver or passenger, dreads the end of the work day when her husband would usually come home, and cannot enjoy the singing and dancing they used to do with friends.
"Since that night, I suffer physical, emotional and mental pain," she said. "The pain is almost unbearable."
The physician's sons, Alfred and Patrick, and his daughter, Christina, also tearfully told the judge how much they miss their father.
Ferguson's parents apologized to the Sein family and asked the judge for mercy. Their son grew up on a farm in northern California, where they tried to raise him to help and serve others, they said.
"I don't understand what happened in Iraq. He wouldn't talk to us about that, but when he came back, he wasn't the same Elijah I raised," Kimberly Ferguson said.
Price said she recommended the lower-end sentence for the defendant --who will be eligible for parole in 13 years -- because he had no criminal history. But she noted in court that Ferguson has had some minor infractions while in the Orange County Jail, and was involved in a serious altercation with a fellow inmate after he was convicted.