INDEPENDENCE — Kenneth Mosher’s family won’t have a say when it comes to sentencing for reality TV star Chris Soules, who pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of the crash that killed the Aurora farmer.
The decision Tuesday precluded what was to have been a sentencing hearing for Soules, a 36-year-old rural Arlington resident who appeared on ABC’s “The Bachelor” and “Dancing with the Stars.”
The ruling pushes the final outcome of the 2-year-old case to another day, likely more than six weeks away.
During the hearing — which was packed the courtroom with relatives, media and other observers — Judge Andrea Dryer sided with Soules’ defense attorney’s argument that, because the leaving-the-scene offense happened after the fatal crash, Mosher’s death wasn’t technically the result of the crime Soules was charged with.
And because Soules wasn’t charged with anything that led to Mosher’s death, she ruled his family couldn’t be considered victims under a strict interpretation of Iowa Code.
“The immediate family members, I have no question to the extent they have suffered because of what happened. … That is not the issue that is being presented here,” Dryer said.
The state had pressed the court to consider Mosher’s family as victims.
“Mr. Soules’ leaving the scene did directly cause emotional harm to Mr. Mosher’s family. ... By leaving the scene and not returning, Mr. Soules deprived them of finding answers about Mr. Mosher’s death both by making himself unavailable and by depriving law enforcement of their chance to determine whether intoxication, exhaustion or other impairment was the cause or a contributing factor in the collision,” Buchanan County Attorney Shawn Harden said.
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Dryer’s ruling struck down the validity of a pre-sentence investigation report, a document prepared by corrections officials that recommended a sentence, which was interwoven in plea negotiations with the state.
According to statements in court, written victim impact statements by Mosher’s widow and two sons urging the maximum penalty for Soules — two years in prison — had been included in the confidential pre-sentence report and were used in the corrections official’s conclusions.
Normally pre-sentence reports aren’t required for the offense Soules pleaded to — leaving the scene of a serious injury accident, a misdemeanor. But as part of the plea negotiations, that state agreed to back whatever recommendation was in the report.
Without a report, the judge was left no choice but to order a new report — one without the victim statements — and reset sentencing for a later date.
The defense had also asked Dryer to step down from the case because she had already read the victim statements. Assistant Iowa Attorney General Scott Brown countered that the judge should be able to disregard what she read without having to recuse herself.
Authorities say Soules was heading south on Slater Avenue outside of Aurora around 8:20 p.m. April 24, 2017, when he rear-ended a tractor Mosher was driving.
The defense said Soules reported the crash to 911 operators, performed CPR and remained on the scene until medics arrived. But prosecutors said he left in another vehicle before law enforcement arrived.
Sheriff’s deputies later found him at his home, and he refused to exit until law enforcement secured a search warrant, according to prosecutors.
Soules had been charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident, a felony with a five-year maximum. In November 2018, he pleaded to a reduced charge of leaving the scene of a serious injury accident, a misdemeanor that carries up to two years in prison.