Unorthodox sentence puts man in jail for Christmas

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by JASON WHITELY / WFAA-TV

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

wfaa.com

Posted on December 21, 2009 at 11:20 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 22 at 12:40 PM

DALLAS — Just before lunch Monday morning, Rocky Anderson entered the Dallas County Jail and turned himself in for the Christmas holiday.

It's a nine-day sentence the fifth Christmas he has spent behind bars.

Debra Allen's son, Braden Hopkins, had just turned 10 when Anderson crashed through their lives.

"I see little kids playing football, and my son's not out there," sobbed Brady Hopkins Sr., Braden's father. "It hurts."

Brady and Debra's youngest son was killed instantly in Irving when Anderson's truck broadsided the Buick which Braden's aunt was driving. The little boy, who had just learned cursive handwriting in school, suffered major head trauma.

Anderson had been drinking that summer night in 2003.

He still shares his sorrow in handwritten letters to Braden's parents.

"Please know I am here for you always, if you like," one line read. "I love you and God Bless, Rocky Anderson."

The sentences sound sincere, but it's part of his punishment.

The jury gave Anderson probation. With that, Judge Vickers Cunningham could only add an additional sentence of up to 180 days in jail.

"We didn't get the right justice," Allen said.

Cunningham, now retired, remembered being touched by the testimony. So instead of making Anderson serve 180 days in jail all at once, he spread out the sentence.

He ordered Anderson to spend nine days in jail around Braden's June birthday and another nine days around Christmas ― every year for a decade.

"That's pretty tough when you know you have to do that every six months," Cunningham said. "You're going to go to jail for nine days. Everybody else is going to have Christmas, watch football and family, he gets a round steak sandwich."

"He has to prepare for it. He has to anticipate it. He has to worry about it," Cunningham added. "Maybe when he has children and he has to say, 'Well, Daddy's got to go to jail for Christmas,' it hopefully will mean something. That was intended to mean something."

In a recent letter, Anderson admitted he was about to get married and have his own child.

His attorney did not return two calls, and Anderson's parents wouldn't put News 8 in touch with their son.

"I can imagine how they feel, too," Allen said. "They probably don't want to go through the news and all that. They probably feel like we're picking on them, but they have no idea how me and my family feel, either."

Allen said she is holding a job for the first time since the accident six years ago, but she still can't bear to keep her son's photos out at home.

Hopkins, a quiet man, cried while reminiscing about his youngest son.

Braden's parents have never agreed with the jury's light sentence. They believe Anderson escaped justice.

Besides probation, Braden's family said they only got a $26,000 settlement from Anderson's insurance company.

The couple doesn't think his letters are heartfelt, but rather just his compliance with a court order. Receiving them is like tearing a scab off a wound, they said. Only a couple of his letters could immediately be found from the last five years.

Though Anderson has included his telephone number and address, asking Braden's family to call if they ever need anything, the family hasn't reached back to him.

They don't know what to say, Hopkins admitted.

Braden's parents insist they don't hate Anderson.

It was a horrible accident and an unorthodox sentence meant to remind Anderson how hard it is to be separated from family during the holidays.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com

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