By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — Bill LaPierre drew deeply on his faith in God and forgave the woman who violently took his beloved wife of 37 years from him, their family and the community she devoted her life to helping.
The court system wasn’t so forgiving, even after Lisa Leavitt stepped forward and accepted responsibility for the woman’s death.
At a hearing in Haverhill District Court in March, Leavitt chose to plead guilty to the crime she was charged with — motor vehicle homicide while operating under the influence of alcohol.
Leavitt didn’t want a plea deal or a trial. She just wanted to be punished for striking Karen LaPierre with her car as the 63-year-old church volunteer was loading doughnuts into her own vehicle early on a Sunday morning. The doughnuts were to be served after Mass at LaPierre’s parish, Sacred Hearts Church. Leavitt received the maximum sentence of 2 1/2 years behind bars, and began serving her sentence at the women’s prison in Framingham.
On April 17, Leavitt was transferred to a minimum security pre-release facility for women in Salisbury, according to Maurice Pratt, a spokesman for the Essex County Sheriff’s Department. He said the Women in Transition facility is for non-violent offenders with minimum criminal history.
On Dec. 17, Leavitt, 38, was transferred to a local “sober house” as part of the WIT program and wears an electronic monitoring bracelet, Pratt said.
He said Leavitt is living in a structured environment where she must take part in programs such as substance abuse classes, group counseling sessions and a work release program.
“It’s a very structured environment that is vital to the reintegration process by helping inmates adjust to living in the community,” Pratt said.
Pratt would not discuss when Leavitt is expected to be released from the program. He said inmates who are in the program are typically allowed to work 20 to 25 hours a week. They receive a certain amount in spending money, and part of their income goes to rent and program fees, he said.
“They are learning or relearning accountability, responsibility in a therapeutic environment,’’ he said. “And they aren’t getting this for free as they must go out and work.”
He said it has to be an approved work site that the Sheriff’s Department has an arrangement with.
Police said the accident that claimed Karen LaPierre’s life happened at 5:20 a.m. on Dec. 18 of 2011. Karen and Bill LaPierre were making their regular Sunday morning stop at Heav’nly Donuts at 55 So. Main St. in Bradford to pick up doughnuts for hospitality gatherings after morning Masses at Sacred Hearts Church. Karen LaPierre was putting the doughnuts in the truck when Leavitt drove into her.
During the hearing in March at which Leavitt plead guilty to her crime, Bill LaPierre forgave her but also told her how much he had lost because of her actions.
“I forgive you for what you have done to my family and me and hope you get the help you need to become a better person,” Bill LaPierre said.
In an expression of resolve and strength, LaPierre talked about his wife, how she had been taken from him and how much pain Leavitt had caused. He called the accident “an inexcusable act of disregard for a beautiful human life, by a drunk driver.”
“My life will never be the same, my loneliness is a daily sentence for me,” Bill LaPierre said. “When Karen died, I lost my best friend, my lover, my primary confidant. I also feel I have lost part of myself.”
Leavitt appeared filled with anguish as LaPierre told her he forgave her.
Judge Michael Uhlarik called it “one of those cases where you wonder what kind of penalty fits the crime.”
“Hopefully this sentence will further help Miss Leavitt understand the immense tragedy this has caused,” he said. “It’s one of those cases of bad judgment, really bad judgment.’’
Uhlarik sentenced Leavitt to 2 1/2 years in prison, of which she must serve 2 years, with the balance suspended. Leavitt, who had been held on $50,000 cash bail since her arraignment last December, was given credit for 101 days served.
Following her release, Leavitt must wear a monitoring bracelet and be under house arrest for six months, then be on probation for five years, during which she cannot drive. A 15-year loss of license was also imposed. In addition, Leavitt must stay away from alcohol, is subject to random screenings, and was ordered to pay various court fees.