Penson to serve 60 years for DUI deaths of 2 Briarcrest students - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Penson to serve 60 years for DUI deaths of 2 Briarcrest students

Penson walks into the courtroom. (Source: WMC Action News 5) Penson walks into the courtroom. (Source: WMC Action News 5)
Melandus Penson in 2015 (Source: Marshall County Jail) Melandus Penson in 2015 (Source: Marshall County Jail)
Rachel Lynch and Maddie Kruse, both 17 years old, were killed when Penson rear-ended their car while driving drunk. (Source: Victims' families) Rachel Lynch and Maddie Kruse, both 17 years old, were killed when Penson rear-ended their car while driving drunk. (Source: Victims' families)

The man accused of the DUI crash that killed two Briarcrest High School students pleaded guilty Monday and was sentenced to 120 years in prison. However, the judge suspended 60 of those years meaning Penson will spend 60 years in prison.

Melandus Penson pleaded guilty to two counts of DUI death in the May 31, 2015 crash that killed Maddie Kruse and Rachel Lynch, both 17 years old. They were on their way to a beach vacation with their friends Kara Holden and Caroline Kamm. Kamm's grandmother, Roxanne Anderson, was driving.

Mississippi Highway Patrol officers said Penson blew a .14 after the crash, which is almost twice the legal blood alcohol content limit.

In addition to the DUI death charges, Penson also pleaded guilty to two counts of DUI negligent injury and a final charge of aggravated assault. Penson was given 25 years in prison for both DUI death charges. He was given 25 years for injuring Kara Holden, and another 25 years for injuring Roxanne Anderson. The judge suspended 20 years on both of those sentences. The entire 20-year sentence for the aggravated assault charge was suspended. 

Prior to the crash, Penson had been convicted of five DUI crashes. Penson was out on bond on his sixth DUI charge when he crashed into the van carrying Kruse, Lynch, Holden, Kamm, and Anderson.

Rachel and Maddie's friends, Caroline Kamm and Kara Holden, took the stand during the sentencing hearing to request a maximum sentence for Penson.

"We’re having to pick up the pieces from this one choice.” Kamm said. "[They] were some of the best friends I could ever ask for. They deserved many many more years than what they got."

"Seven times now, he's done this. I don't want another family to be hurt. He needs the full sentence." Holden said. "I don’t want my family and friends to be on the road with him. I don’t want anyone else to be hurt by him anymore."

Rachel's mother, Jennifer Lynch, also took the stand and begged for the maximum sentence. She read her own statement, as well as those from other family members who weren't able to attend the hearing.

"I'll never see her go to college, get married. My husband will never walk her down the aisle." Lynch said. "No more light sentences for drunk driving and killing people. If there’s a harsh sentence passed down, people might start thinking twice.

Penson was noticeably stoic as his victims' families read their testimonies. 

"I am her only brother, and now I’m an only child," Rachel's brother, Justin said. "Every day I have to remind myself she is gone. Every day I have to force myself to go on for her. Please do not let this person out of jail in my lifetime."

"This crash has crippled my family," Matt Lynch, Rachel's father, said. "We are forever changed by this crash. There should be no leniency because of his habitual behavior. We hope the state enforces the maximum."

Maddie Kruse's father, Tedd Kruse, recounted, through tears, the morning he found out his daughter had been in an accident. 

"We thought we were going to pick Maddie up from the hospital…we had no clue what we were going to experience," Tedd said. "We had our precious Maddie senselessly taken away from us and we had no clue what to do. You can’t breathe. It’s hard to talk. The pain in your heart is so strong you feel like you’re going to die, and dying at this point seemed like a pretty good option--at least then we’d be with Maddie."

"We believe if given the opportunity, he will drive drunk again and kill someone else," Tedd continued. "We are begging you to sentence the defendant to the maximum term."

“I don’t get to see her fall in love, and that breaks my heart," Maddie's mother, Dawn Kruse, cried. "I ask you to give the maximum sentence, because my son will be driving in a few months and it terrifies me that he’ll be on the road with people like him [Penson]."

"I think he should be sentenced--just like the parents--for life, because that's what they're sentenced to," said Roxanne Anderson, who was driving the car the girls were riding in on the way to the beach. 

When family and friend's finished reading their testimonies, Penson's defense attorney called Penson's God-sister, Jeniquez Long, to the stand.

"I’ve known Melandus Penson all of his life," Long said. "He was a great guy. He held a job and worked hard to provide for his family."

Penson then stood up to say a few words.

"I just want to let y’all know, I was not under the influence of alcohol. I had mercy. I stayed on the scene for more than an hour," Penson said. "I’d like to say that I’m sorry. I have a family too. Just as well as God forgives, I ask that y’all forgive me."

After reading the sentencing, Judge J. Kelly Luther concluded, "Any credit or mercy this court shows, it is not toward Mr. Penson. It’s toward the group of people sitting behind Mr. Penson. I feel sorry for everybody in this courtroom, except for Mr. Penson."

Full testimonies

Melandus Penson denies being drunk, asks families for forgiveness

Penson's God-sister takes stand on his behalf

Maddie Kruse's father tearfully recounts morning of accident that killed his daughter

Rachel Lynch's brother, Justin, shares tearful testimony

Rachel Lynch's mother, Jennifer, reads testimony during hearing

Cody Holden asks for 120-year sentence for man who injured his daughter

Judge sentences Melandus Penson to 60 years in prison

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