Delgado returns to jail for Tongan deathsBy Neil Gonzales
A judge Friday sentenced a 19-year-old Redwood City woman to two years in jail in connection with the deaths of a Tongan royal couple and their driver in a vehicle collision a year ago.
But Edith Delgado will likely serve roughly five months in the Women's Correctional Facility in Redwood City given credit for time already served in jail and good behavior.
Delgado sobbed and held her defense attorney's hand as San Mateo County Superior Court Judge John Runde sentenced her.
The judge also gave her three years' probation and ordered her to report to jail Sept. 1 at 9 a.m.
Asked if she understood her sentence and other conditions, Delgado replied, "Yes, your honor."
She and her family quickly walked out of the courthouse without comment, followed by a throng of news reporters and cameras.
Her case has drawn much attention the past year. It involved a tragedy that threw a large Tongan population on the Peninsula and their compatriots back home in the South Pacific into national mourning.
After a two-and-a-half-week trial, a jury in June convicted Delgado of three counts of misdemeanor manslaughter for the deaths of Tonga's Prince Tu'ipelehake, 55; his 46-year-old wife, Princess Kaimana; and Vinisia Hefa, 36, of East Palo Alto, who had been chauffeuring the royals.
Delgado escaped facing up to eight years in state prison when the jury acquitted her of the more serious charges of felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence in the July 2006 crash on Highway 101 in Menlo Park.
Authorities said Delgado was driving a Ford Mustang at a high rate of speed when her vehicle struck the Ford Explorer carrying the royal couple and Hefa. All three in the Explorer died when it rolled over several times.
Delgado had already spent 11 months in jail before her $1 million bail was reduced to $40,000, when she was found not guilty of the felony offenses. Her family then posted the lesser bail amount, and she has since been out of custody.
Delgado faced a maximum of three years in jail for the misdemeanor offenses.
During her sentencing, Deputy District Attorney Aaron Fitzgerald argued for a jail term of slightly more than 2 1/2 years.
"Make no mistake - the jury found her guilty and criminally responsible for these deaths," Fitzgerald said in court.
Relatives of the princess also spoke to the judge.
"Losing Kaimana is like losing a sister," said a tearful Amelia Tupou Tonga, a cousin of the princess.
"Words cannot express how much loss this feels even after a year," she said. "Our family suffers. Our country suffers. But we are a forgiving people, and all we want today is justice."
At the time of their deaths, the royal couple were visiting the Bay Area as part of a political-reform mission.
The prince, a nephew of the late King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, was the leading reformist in the royal family. He was head of a national committee studying democratic reforms for the kingdom.
Randy Moore, Delgado's San Jose-based lawyer, maintained that the time his client already spent in jail was sufficient.
He said Delgado has shown remorse and taken responsibility for her actions.
"I respect the judge," Moore said outside the courthouse, "but I don't like the sentencing."
Runde took into account a probation report suggesting "that this was an instance of bad judgment," the judge said during the hearing. "That's one side of the ledger. The other side of the equation is the very serious harm caused by her conduct."
The judge also ordered Delgado to pay restitution to the victims' families and noted that her driver's license has already been revoked.
Copyright ©2007 MediaNews. Published 08/25/2007.