FARMINGTON – A Jay woman insisted on being charged with manslaughter for killing her husband last year in a drunken driving crash, even though the state would have agreed to a lesser charge, said a prosecutor.

Barbara Benoit, 51, was sentenced Friday to four years in jail with all but six months suspended — a punishment that Justice Michaela Murphy said was inconsistent with the charge.

“This is not a manslaughter sentence,” she said in Franklin County Superior Court.

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Robinson and Benoit’s lawyer argued for the sentence, which Murphy said she agreed to only because the victim’s family didn’t request more jail time.

Benoit was driving her husband, Peter Benoit, home from his restaurant in Farmington on July 12, 2009, when her Subaru Outback jumped a guardrail on Franklin Road in Jay and crashed, killing her husband.

She said she drank two glasses of wine at the restaurant before driving. Her blood-alcohol level was 0.12 percent.

Since the accident, Benoit has been overcome with remorse, said her attorney, David Austin. She has kept to herself, convinced that people think she’s a bad person, he said. She hasn’t worked for a year, and her house has gone into foreclosure.

Benoit originally was charged with manslaughter and aggravated operating under the influence causing death. Robinson said he was willing to drop the manslaughter charge and accept a guilty plea to drunken driving.

But Benoit insisted on pleading guilty to manslaughter. “I have someone who does not want to defend herself,” said Austin.

Austin said Benoit only recently told him that she and her husband were in a physical fight when the accident happened.

Other new details about the night of the accident emerged in court Friday.

Robinson said Benoit went to Peter’s Steak & Seafood to pick up her husband, the owner, who didn’t have a driver’s license. He said her husband poured her a glass of wine, knowing that she was going to drive him home.

“He provided the alcohol. He contributed to the condition she was in,” Robinson said.

Robinson said a witness confirmed she had one more glass of wine before she got in the car. But Murphy said she suspected Benoit had more to drink than she claimed.

Murphy said the case consisted of “a very unusual set of facts” and there was “just barely enough evidence to support (a manslaughter) charge.”

Murphy said courts must be consistent in the range of sentences for each classification of crime, and that Benoit’s sentence was uncommonly lenient for manslaughter.

Benoit addressed the court in tears. “I just want it to be over, this part of it to be over,” she said. “I thought it would get better, but it gets worse, it seems.

Benoit will be imprisoned for six months and then spend four years on probation. Her license was suspended for five years, and she was fined $2,100.

“There is no question you’re accepting full responsibility — too much responsibility, legally,” Murphy told Benoit.


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