Sentencing for former 'Bachelor' Chris Soules was delayed again. Here's why.
"Bachelor" star and Iowa native Chris Soules will be sentenced at a later date. Here's what to know about what has happened since the 2017 fatal crash. Des Moines Register
INDEPENDENCE, Ia. — After more than two years of delays, Chris Soules' lawyers on Tuesday successfully argued to again postpone the reality star's sentencing on charges related to a fatal road crash in 2017.
In a rural Buchanan County courtroom, an emotional hearing about whether the family of the victim, Kenny Mosher, 66, of Aurora, would be allowed to speak at the sentencing was overshadowed by a wrongful death settlement.
The settlement was first reported by WOI television at weareiowa.com.A $2.5 million settlement for the Mosher family was approved within three days of its January filing, records show. It headed off any civil litigation about the culpability of Soules, his parents, Gary and Linda Soules, and their insurer, Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company, in Mosher's death.
Neither the Soules family nor his attorneys commented on the settlement after court Tuesday. The Mosher family and the prosecutors also declined to comment, citing the open case.
Mosher, a farmer and retired factory worker, died from injuries suffered when Soules’ truck rear-ended his tractor at about 8:20 p.m. on April 24, 2017. The tractor, which didn’t have an enclosed cab, rolled into a ditch near the road.
In a packed courtroom, where suits mingled with overalls in equal measure, the case known for diving into the legal weeds once again turned on specific Iowa code wording and constitutional arguments.
Soules’ lawyers successfully blocked the family’s victim impact statements from being entered into the record or used in a presentence investigation report. They argued that because Soules' conviction for leaving the scene of a personal injury accident did not involve the crash itself, Mosher's relatives were not "victims" in a legal sense.
His attorneys then made a motion for a new presentence investigation report to be written. Prosecutors agreed with the motion, saying that they had based their sentencing recommendation on the report, which itself had relied on the now-stricken impact statements.
Judge Andrea Dryer reminded both sides that misdemeanor charges do not require a presentence investigation report — that it is the court's discretion whether to order one. But, because both sides had agreed that they needed it for their plea negotiations, she said she would order a new report, further delaying the sentencing.
Sealed by Iowa law, a presentence investigation report includes details about a defendant's background and an assessment of the likelihood of recidivism. The report is meant to provide a judge with information that could be relevant to sentencing.
Soules’ lawyers also asked for a new judge to be appointed to the case, alleging that since Dryer had read the victim impact statements, she could be prejudiced against Soules. Dryer did not rule on that motion in court Tuesday.
After the ruling, Alfredo Parrish, one of Soules’ attorneys, estimated the new report would be completed in the summer and that a new sentencing date could be scheduled as soon as August.
Victim statements blame Soules
Originally charged with leaving the scene of a deadly accident, a felony that carries a sentence of up to five years in prison, Soules avoided trial by pleading guilty last year to leaving the scene of a personal injury accident, an aggravated misdemeanor. The lesser charge carries a maximum sentence of up to two years in prison.
Iowa law permits victim impact statements for immediate family members of victims who die as a result of a crime. But Soules pleaded guilty to a charge related only to his actions after the crash — actions that themselves did not result in Mosher's death.
At issue were three statements: one by Kenny's wife, Nancy Mosher, and one from each of her sons.
Robert Montgomery, one of Soules’ lawyers, said the sealed statements “make assertions of fact and then assertions of fault based on those facts.”
“All three of them inherently are inextricably premised upon the faulty premise that the death of their husband or their father was the fault of Mr. Soules," Montgomery said. "All three of them inextricably, inherently entwine in that (faulty premise) and urge the maximum punishment.”
Montgomery later said that at least one of the letters characterized the crash as an “avoidable incident.”
The state countered that Soules’ leaving the scene did “directly cause emotional harm for the Mosher family.”
“By leaving and not returning, Soules deprived them of answers about Mr. Mosher’s death,” Buchanan County attorney Shawn Harden said.
Sitting in the row behind the prosecutors, Mosher’s two sons nodded their heads in agreement during Harden’s arguments. One of his sons clutched a printed piece of paper, presumably the impact statement he had prepared to read.
In making her decision to strike the statements, Dryer said that while reasonable people may see the Moshers as victims, the law defines a victim in this case only as “someone who suffers harm or suffers hurt as a result of the April 2017 crash."
"The individuals who submitted those statements, as I've said, my heart goes out to them," Dryer said Tuesday.
“I don’t have any question the extent to which they have suffered,” she added. "But that is not the test."
When the final ruling was announced, a member of the Mosher family let out a sigh and whispered, “Are you kidding me?”
After the hearing, Parrish called Dryer "an extremely bright judge."
"She followed the statutory provisions of Iowa law, so we were pretty happy about that, because it was a difficult decision with the family sitting there," he said. "I know Mr. Soules still feels a very great deal of remorse for the loss that the Mosher family had to go through, but the law, as you know, is a different animal."
The dusk collision that killed Mosher set off years of high-profile court proceedings, many of which centered on arguments by Soules' lawyers that the Iowa law he was charged with breaking was unconstitutional.
The prosecution, led by Harden and Iowa Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown, said Soules violated an Iowa law that requires a driver involved in a fatal crash to remain "at the scene of the accident except to seek necessary aid or to report the accident to law enforcement authorities."
If the driver leaves the scene to report the crash or seek aid, the law continues, he or she shall "immediately return to the scene of the accident or inform the law enforcement authorities where the surviving driver can be located."
"Bachelor" star Chris Soules has been accused of leaving the scene of a deadly crash, according to the Buchanan County Jail.
The obligation to remain at the scene or report one’s whereabouts amounts to self-incrimination, defense attorneys argued, infringes on Soules' right to be free from unreasonable seizures, which is protected by the Fourth Amendment, and his right to due process, protected by the 14th Amendment.
Defense attorneys also argued that Soules satisfied the intent of the law by calling 911, identifying himself and tending to Mosher’s medical needs.
Soules administered CPR until the compressions caused blood to come from Mosher's mouth, court documents said. He remained on scene until paramedics arrived and directed them to Mosher. He left several minutes later.
Mosher was taken to a local hospital, where he later died.
Dryer sided with the prosecution, saying the law was clear and did not violate any constitutional rights.
“All surviving drivers involved in an accident causing the death of a person must remain at the accident scene until law enforcement authorities have responded to the required immediate accident report, arrived at the accident scene, and had the opportunity to see the surviving drivers,” she wrote.
Soules’ lawyers then unsuccessfully appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.
'An unavoidable accident'
In the plea agreement that followed his unsuccessful appeal, Soules acknowledged he failed to provide his vehicle's registration number to 911 dispatch or law enforcement, as required by Iowa law.
But in court documents filed last year, Soules' attorneys seemed to be questioning other portions of the investigation.
Brown said that neither Soules nor an independent witness to the crash saw any lights on Mosher's tractor before the collision. By law, the tractor would have been required to display flashing amber lights, the affidavit stated.
"The Bachelor" star Chris Soules called police shortly after a fatal crash in Buchanan County in Iowa on Monday, April 24, 2017.
Soules was later diagnosed with a concussion resulting from the crash, Brown said. Even though his airbag deployed, it "did not prevent Mr. Soules from hitting his head on the windshield so hard that it shattered."
Mosher was driving as slow as 6 mph, Brown's affidavit states. Soules was driving his truck below the posted 55 mph speed limit, and Brown said experts concluded Soules acted reasonably given the circumstances.
"Mr. Soules found himself in an unavoidable accident," Brown's affidavit stated.
Parrish, Soules’ attorney, said his team spoke with Soules a lot in the days leading up to Tuesday's hearing.
“I mean, he knew the Moshers," Parrish said. "He knows the gentleman who died. He's been pretty stressed out by this whole thing.”
Soules appeared on "The Bachelor" in 2015, where his roots as a farmer in rural Arlington, Iowa, played a prominent role and earned him the nickname "Prince Farming." He went on to appear on Season 20 of “Dancing With the Stars” and a season of “Worst Chefs in America: Celebrity Edition.”
He rejoined social media a year after the crash, but has mostly stayed out of the limelight.
Throughout the lengthy court proceedings and investigations, the Moshers have declined to comment.
Register reporters Stephen Gruber-Miller and Anne Spoerre contributed to this report.