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12-year sentence for teen in fatal DUI sparks debate

The judge who last week sent the 18-year-old son of the Merced County District Attorney to prison on a 12-year, 4-month sentence called it an ?extremely difficult? decision before handing down the term that shocked family and friends in the Sonoma County courtroom.

Judge Ken Gnoss leveled one of the harshest sentences of the past decade for a fatal DUI, ordering Dylan Morse behind bars for at least 10 years for killing one man and leaving his best friend in a coma.

The sentence followed the recommendation of the county probation department, which said that Morse was ?well aware? of the dangers of driving while intoxicated. But it drew condemnation from even some of the families of the victims of the crash.

?This was grossly unfair and unjust,? Chris Andrian, Morse?s attorney, said.

Andrian said Gnoss showed no compassion for the teenage driver who had no prior record, was ?appropriately remorseful? and was completing alcohol treatment.

Morse entered guilty pleas to three felonies and three misdemeanors in connection with the Valentine?s Day collision that took the life of Berkeley art student and musician Alex Ruiz, 22, left Ryne Spitzer, 19, with potential lifelong disabilities and injured Ruiz?s passenger, Vanessa King, 25.

?We are trying to intervene on the excessive confinement thrown at Dylan Morse,? Ryne Spitzer?s father, Mark Spitzer, wrote on a blog he is keeping on his son?s medical progress.

?This is not to lessen the devastating effects of drinking and driving, but we are also talking about an 18-year-old young man who needs a chance after any incarceration to still salvage a productive and influential life. We will try to help.?

Gnoss acknowledged before sentencing that the decision weighed heavily on him, noting that his children are near in age to Morse, Spitzer and Ruiz.

He said if he were to put himself in the position of Morse?s family, he would seek leniency. If his children were the victims, he?d be calling for the maximum punishment.

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