Family chooses to forgive, not punish

Emotions were strong during a recent hearing in a Pauls Valley courtroom as Austin Johnson was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea drawing him a prison term a few weeks. Here his parents embrace family members of the Stratford couple, Chris and Regina Dilbeck, hurt in a 2018 traffic accident as Johnson continues to face two charges of driving impaired. (PV Democrat photo by Barry Porterfield)

A tidal wave of tears and emotions burst out as forgiveness and compassion ruled the day as a young Ada man facing some time in prison now has a second chance in a Garvin County case.

Family members on both sides embraced each other tightly as 24-year-old Austin Johnson was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea for causing a 2018 traffic accident resulting in severe injuries altering the lives of a Stratford couple forever.

The emotional outburst came during a recent hearing in a Pauls Valley courtroom as Johnson was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea of driving impaired resulting in a two-vehicle collision on July 7, 2018 that left Chris and Regina Dilbeck in a hospital for nearly a month and needing help from others ever since for simple daily things.

Among those taking the stand on May 22 was Shane Moss, who was adamant about his mother and stepfather, along with himself and the entire Dilbeck family, wanting to see Johnson stay out of prison and instead get the substance abuse and mental health help he needs.

“They do not want him to go to prison,” Moss said about his parents.

“After the sentencing it ate at all of us,” he said about a March 6 hearing where Johnson was given a 20-year sentence with five in prison and the rest suspended.

“At first I felt a little bitter he didn’t get help before the sentencing. As we all pondered on it we all realized we’re all firm as a family that he should not go to prison. We decided as a family that we want him to get help and not go to prison.

“He’s been in jail for 90 days. If he can get out and get the help he needs, that’s all the punishment we want. We don’t need this man to go to prison. We want to give him another chance, get help, be a good citizen, learn from this and go forward.”

While being questioned Moss continued to stress his mother and stepfather, victims of Johnson’s impaired driving, are “firm” about their desire for him to stay out of prison as the family has collectively chosen to forgive him for causing the wreck on the eastern side of Garvin County nearly two years ago.

“You’re forgiven by me,” Moss said while looking toward Johnson, who was in restraints and dressed in an orange inmate suit while seated in the local courtroom.

“I’m the voice of them and they forgive you. We’re 100 percent we don’t want you to spend a single day in prison. We want you to get a second chance and live a good life.

“They want to get him the help without prison time. It ate at mom ever since she walked out of the courtroom. It ate at me.

“We’ve all been given second chances and that’s what we want him to have – a second chance.”

After the near day-long hearing District Judge Leah Edwards ruled to allow Johnson to withdraw his guilty plea as the two criminal charges he’s faced for well over a year now goes back to the start of the process.

Edwards said she had reviewed case law in preparation for the hearing, even citing a 1924 case involving the discretion of the court.

A not guilty plea was entered for the two DUI charges as members of both families came together as Johnson was freed from county jail after a $10,000 bond was posted. His next court appearance in the case is scheduled for late August.

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