SALEM — Craig Snow, the young Lynn man who hosted an out-of-control birthday party that led to a fatal drunken-driving accident, pleaded guilty yesterday in Lynn District Court to furnishing alcohol to minors.
He was sentenced to six months in jail, suspended for two years, meaning he will not have to serve any time behind bars.
The accident, on March 21, 2010, occurred as Christopher Maxson, who had been drinking at the party, ran several stop signs and crashed on the way home. His girlfriend, 19-year-old Julia Gauthier, a Salem State student who had graduated 10th in her class at Salem High, was ejected through the sunroof and killed.
Maxson, of Marblehead and Salem, was sentenced later that year to three to four years in state prison, after pleading guilty to a charge of motor vehicle homicide while driving drunk and recklessly.
That Snow did not receive any jail time was the wish of Gauthier's family.
"While I do think that jail time might be a bit harsh for this defendant, I do believe that he should have to carry with him a guilty in regards to this crime," Gauthier's sister, Sherie Weber, said in a victim impact statement.
"Please remember that Julia will not be returning back to us in 6, 10, 12 months," she wrote.
Prosecutors were seeking a 90-day jail term for Snow, now 21, to send the message that young people should think twice about hosting drinking parties.
"The message has to be sent to someone looking to have a party like this," Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Wood said.
The Essex County District Attorney's office has championed the state's social host liability law. Those found guilty of it face a year in jail and up to a $2,000 fine for furnishing alcohol to minors.
While there was no evidence Snow supplied booze for the party, Snow was in control of the home where the party occurred, Wood said. Snow's parents were away in Vermont and unaware of the party, Wood said.
"There was a ton of people there drinking and smoking marijuana," Wood said.
Wood said the state was seeking jail time for Snow based on the nature of the charge, the seriousness of the facts and the defendant's actions after.
During one of the proceedings, Snow wore a shirt with a pot leaf, beer mug and silhouette of a naked woman depicted on it, and he repeatedly missed office visits with his probation officer, Wood said. He said these actions did not show a defendant who was taking the case seriously.
Snow's attorney, Joseph Finn, painted a different picture, however, noting that Snow, Gauthier and Maxson were all friends. The party started with a small gathering at Snow's house that snowballed.
"The guests at this party brought their own alcohol," Finn said.
"Mr. Snow sits before you quite remorseful," said Finn, who said Snow lost a good friend and thinks about what happened every day. He said the psychological torment was worse than any punishment the court might mete out.
"I believe a jail sentence is forever going to condemn him," said Finn, who said Snow was looking to go into the Army or Navy, and a jail sentence would deny him that opportunity.
Gauthier's mother, who was present in court, did not speak, but Wood said neither she nor her daughter were seeking jail time for Snow.
"She recognizes that they were kids, this was a mistake, but she wants them to go on with their lives," Wood said of Marie Gauthier. Gauthier declined comment after the proceeding.
Weber's email paints a picture of Julia Gauthier's last day as a beautiful one that she embraced, and points out that what happened was not "a victimless crime."
Weber asked for a guilty verdict, but not jail.
"I am respectfully requesting that you consider alternative or creative sentencing with this defendant," Weber wrote. "Maybe guilty with probation and some community service, which could involve speaking with high school groups and telling Julia's story and his role in the end of her life, so that if even one person is deterred from hosting a party with underage or overindulging drinking, then we are 100 percent successful in saving countless lives."
Lynn District Court Judge Ellen Flatley read the statement, but declined to impose a sentence in which Snow would speak to high school students. She did go along with the prosecution's request that Snow be ordered to undergo alcohol and drug counseling, participate in a "Brains at Risk" program and complete 100 hours of community service.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DanverSalemNews.