EUREKA, Calif. — Marci Kitchen was sentenced to eight years behind bars Tuesday during a sentencing hearing at the Humboldt County Courthouse. She pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter charges that stemmed from a hit and run that killed two 14-year-old girls, her own daughter and her daughter's friend, in Fortuna in July of 2016.
The sentencing hearing took place at at 9 a.m. on Sept. 18. Meghan O'Connell, the supervising attorney and conflict council for the defendant, and Stacy Eads, the prosecutor, both made statements. Kitchen arrived around 9:15 a.m. to a full courtroom. People attended in support of both Kitchen and the victims. The room was so full the crowd was pouring into the hallway. Victim impact statements were given from both sides.
Judge Kaleb V. Cockrum said he considered all the letters that were sent in, documents, reports and exhibits, and went through a hand-written statement submitted by Kitchen on Sept. 11. He also said he took into consideration everything that happened during the preliminary hearing.
The prosecution asked for 11 years and four months, the maximum sentence allowed under law for the charges against the defendant. Kitchen's attorney asked for probation for her client.
On the night of July 12, 2016, Kitchen was driving her Jeep Wrangler through Fortuna when she hit two girls from behind who were longboarding on Eel River Drive. According to the prosecution, the defendant was intoxicated and fled the scene before making multiple efforts to conceal evidence of the crime.
According to O'Connell, Kitchen initially thought she hit a deer, and found out later she had run over Faith Tsarnas and Kiya Kitchen, the defendant's daughter. However Judge Cockrum said in his ruling that he didn't believe this, reasoning that if she thought she hit a deer, she would not have made efforts to cover it up afterwards.
The defense argued Kitchen offered to turn herself in within 24 hours of the crime, but said police instead led the public to believe she was dodging law enforcement by releasing public statements saying they were searching for her.
Faith Tsarnas was declared dead at the crash site. Kiya Kitchen died the following day at a hospital in Oakland.
Investigators were able to connect the Jeep to the crash by matching it to debris at the scene, including silver/grey paint chips and part of a fender, according to court documents. They seized the vehicle the day after the collision after getting a tip from a Fortuna Police Dept. officer.
"Investigation indicate[s] Marcia (Marci) Kitchen concealed the Jeep behind her residence immediately after the collision and has since made attempts to dissuade her son from providing a statement to law enforcement," court records say.
Judge Cockrum also referenced in court Tuesday that, according to investigators, Kitchen asked her son Jevin to ram the jeep into a basketball hoop to attempt to conceal evidence. He said this was one of the reasons he thought state prison was a more appropriate sentence for Kitchen than probation.
Kitchen surrendered herself to the DA's office on Sept. 14 and posted $750,000 bail the same night. She pleaded not guilty to all charges and special allegations against her.
The defendant remained free on bail until she turned herself in almost two years later, and on Aug. 20, changed her plea to guilty for all charges. She surrendered her bail bond and turned herself in to the Humboldt County jail on Sept. 3.
Jevin Kitchen addressed the court with an emotional victim impact statement during the sentencing hearing. He said he was at home playing video games on the night of July 12, when he heard a faint cry for help. He went outside and saw the Jeep destroyed, and his mother beside it. "It was a complete wreck," he said. "My mom—excuse me—Marci was on the passenger's side looking shocked."
He said it was clear to him that Marci had been drinking. "Growing up with alcoholic parents, I know exactly what drunk looks like," he said.
"She hands me the keys and says, 'I need you to ram this Jeep into the basketball hoop as hard as you can," he said.
He said he rushed to the scene of the accident after getting a sickening feeling in his gut and asking what had happened with no reasonable answer from Marci. When he got to the scene, he said he saw Faith's body lying in the street.
When Kiya was flown to Oakland for treatment, Marci, Jevin and Kiya's father, Joe Kitchen, followed her there. Jevin said when the family found out Kiya didn't make it, Marci said "It was me. I did this. I killed her."
"My own mother betrayed me, manipulated me, used me and killed my sister," Jevin said to the court. "I will forever hate her in my soul."
Joe Kitchen also offered a statement to the courtroom: "My baby girl, she was born on my birthday," he said. He called Marci a narcissist, and described seeing his daughter in the hospital. "My baby girl all smashed up bloody...her legs twisted and her body distorted."
"Marci's actions have destroyed my life," Joe said. "What happened to Marci? She was a great mom. She gave [Kiya] to me then she killed her."
Faith Tsarnas's father, Jeff Tsarnas, prepared a statement for the prosecution as well, which was read to the court by another party. He said he felt guilty because he and Faith's mother decided their daughter wasn't allowed at the Kitchen residence, but he let her go there. "I hope one day I will be forgiven," his statement read. He was clearly distraught.
Faith's mother, Stephanie Baldwin, and sister, Elizabeth Tsarnas spoke as well.
Baldwin said in the two-plus years the case has dragged on for, "Marci Kitchen has shown us no sign of remorse."
"I'm furious that Faith and Kiya were left like pieces of trash in the road, left to die," she said. "How do I do my best for my living children...when the best part of me died that day with Faith?"
She presented a picture of her daughter to the court, saying it was the last picture she took of her at the airport before sending her off to Humboldt for the summer. "In stark contrast, this is how I brought my daughter back." Baldwin held up a box which she said contained Faith's ashes.
"What did it sound like when you and your Jeep crushed the life out of [the girls]? Forgiveness must come, but not now."
More witnesses were called up by DA Eads, including Kiya's best friend, Faith's step father, step sister, aunt and uncle, and a first-responder.
Witnesses spoke for the defense as well. Marci's boyfriend's step father Daniel Weaver said the media, namely social media, have painted an unjustified picture of Marci and have perpetuated erroneous and misleading statements about the case.
"She is not an evil person. She's not callous," he said. Weaver also said the "tropical vacations" the defendant was said to have taken were "primarily to escape treatment in the county."
Friends of Kitchen gave statements, echoing each other's sentiments that Marci was a loving mother.
"She's not the vicious person the media has portrayed," Tiffany Culvert said to the court. "Marci would do anything for her children."
"She could not have knowingly left these girls on the side of the road," Wendy Cominsky said.
Finally, Kitchen addressed the court with a brief statement.
"All of my life, all I've ever wanted to be was a mom..." She went on to say, "Our lives are now in grief and despair. I wish I could console everyone in this room, but I am the cause. Most of the victims in this case are people I love, and people who used to love me."
She ended her statement saying, "I hope with the sentencing today, we can have closure." She then apologized to the judge.