Judge upholds 9 1/2 year sentence in Bedford DUI death case

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BEDFORD, Va. (WDBJ7) Emily Aponte offered a tearful apology in a Bedford County courtroom Tuesday for driving drunk and causing a 2014 car crash that led to the death of her son, Ethan.

"I hope everybody knows I'm sorry that I took him," Aponte said.

Her statement failed to sway Judge Jim Updike, who upheld a jury's decision and formally sentenced Aponte to 9 and 1/2 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and maiming.

Aponte's defense attorney Dirk Padgett said his client will live with the guilt of killing her child for the rest of her life. He doesn't believe she should be in prison, primarily because of something that happened right after her accident.

"The cops, the state trooper, basically coerced her to give consent," Padgett said, arguing that his client was coaxed into giving a blood sample shortly after her accident.

"Once she gave consent, the Supreme Court has ruled in Birchfield vs. North Dakota. there must be a search warrant issued," said Padgett, referencing a June ruling that allows law enforcement to conduct warrantless breath tests but not blood tests on suspected drunk drivers.

Prosecutors argued the recent Supreme Court decision should not impact Aponte's case. In court Tuesday they put Ethan Aponte's grandfather on the stand to underscore the need for a stiff punishment.

"We must remember Ethan in this process," said Harry Aponte. "He has rights, too."

Padgett vowed to appeal Tuesday's verdict.

"I'm going to pursue it with everything that I have," Padgett told WDBJ7 after Tuesday's sentencing hearing.

Padgett tried to get Aponte out on bond during the appeals process, but his request was denied. Prosecutors argued the length of her sentence could make her a flight risk.