FULTON COUNTY — The Northern Indiana woman who killed three children and injured a fourth when she drove around a stopped school bus took a life skills course that cut six months off her prison sentence.
And while the mother of the siblings Alyssa Shepherd killed on that dark country highway is angry, there’s nothing the courts, prosecutor or judge can do to change it.
“Alyssa and people like her, 90 percent of the people who go to (Department of Correction), are going to come home. They are going to come back to their communities,” said Bernice Corley, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council. “What’s important is we as taxpayers have done what we can to help them come back into their communities and be successful.”
Indiana law gives most convicted criminals an opportunity to cut anywhere from six months to two years off their sentences by taking classes while in prison. Criminals convicted of violent crimes including kidnapping, child molesting and rape are not eligible for the education credit.
Earning a GED reduces a sentence by six months; graduating high school while in prison cuts a year off the sentence.
Prisoners can earn a year off their sentence by earning an associate degree and two-years off with a bachelor’s degree.
Completing vocational and technical training programs can cut a year off the sentence.
They can also earn credit by completing courses aimed at ending substance abuse and teaching various life skills.
"It's so important to encourage people to be constructive with their time and better themselves," Corely said, "so that when they come in their communities, they can continue their penance for what they did through being constructive citizens."
The education incentives are spelled out in state law and administered by the Department of Correction.
“Our office and the judge have no ability to affect that,” Fulton County Prosecutor Michael Marrs told WRTV Friday.
In December 2019, Alyssa Shepherd was sentenced to four years in prison, three years house arrest and three years probation in connection with the crash that killed Alivia Stahl, 9; her twin half-brothers Mason and Xzavier Ingle, 6; and critically injured 11-year-old Maverik Lowe.
Shepherd shaved six months off her sentence by completing a faith-based course designed to reform criminal lifestyles, behavior and attitudes, Marrs said.
“It’s not even about the accident anymore," Brittany Ingle, mother of Alivia, Xavier and Mason told ABC 57 in South Bend on Thursday. "It’s about the way Alyssa Shepherd carries herself and how the family and her have chosen to handle this and really, bluntly put out there, that my kids’ lives didn’t matter. And I’m telling you if he does this today and let’s her out early for Christmas, it’s going to be bad.”
Marrs can’t stop the education credit, but court records show he is asking a judge to block the Department of Correction’s effort to move Shepherd into the Community Transition Program in December.
“The thing that has irked the family is you become eligible for Community Transition 90 days before your release,” Marrs said. “In bigger counties that usually means work release, but here it’s probably probation.”
Shepherd was driving her 2017 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck south on a dark, moonless morning when she drove around the stopped school bus and struck the four children as they crossed the two-lane country highway in Fulton County the morning of Oct. 30, 2018.
The speed limit is 55 mph; Shepherd was going about 58 mph.
Shepherd testified at trial that she rounded a curve and mistook the bus and its bright flashing lights for farm equipment, according to court records. She said she never saw the bus's stop arm and did not see the children until it was too late.
There’s no way to bring the children back or restore full health to Maverick, the survivor of who has undergone more than 20 surgeries since the crash, Marrs said, but the judge can make sure Shepherd serves those last three months of her sentence in the prison, not at home.
“If she gets out on Dec. 20, she’ll have served just two years in prison,” Marrs said. “She’s out in time for Christmas with her kids.”
The state’s motion opposing the transition program was filed Thursday. No hearing date has been set.
Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at email@example.com or on Twitter: @vicryc.