MARSHALL - Courtney Voorhees will go to prison knowing she's been forgiven.
Voorhees, 29, of Cottonwood, was sentenced in Lyon County District Court in Marshall on Tuesday to 41 months in prison on charges of criminal vehicular homicide and criminal vehicular injury.
The parents of Morgan Leigh Cline, 17, of Kandiyohi, who was killed when Voorhees was driving drunk on Nov. 12 near Cottonwood, have forgiven Voorhees.
That forgiveness has given her life, Voorhees said in court Tuesday.
"I believe Morgan saved my life," Voorhees said. "I found sobriety. I found Christ and forgiveness."
"If Sheila and Ted had not forgiven Courtney, she would have killed herself," Voorhees' mother, Karen Geihl of Cottonwood, said after the sentencing hearing.
"The path she was on was gonna lead to her death," Voorhees' husband Lucas Voorhees said after the hearing. Voorhees has been sober for seven months and is active in leading alcohol anonymous groups as well as sharing the forgiveness story along with Cline's parents, Sheila Cline Bass and Ted Bass, of Kandiyohi.
Voorhees and Sheila Cline Bass and Ted Bass have shared their story in Cottonwood and Willmar and are willing to continue to share it to help others.
Their story is one rarely told in the courtroom or publicly, the two lawyers involved in the case said.
"It is remarkable," said public defender Stephen Ferrazzano, Voorhees' lawyer. "I don't know, for something like this, there isn't words for it. I hardly ever see it. I very rarely, if at all, see compassion and forgiveness given to my clients."
"You don't see this," prosecutor Lyon County Attorney Rick Maes said.
Bass Cline read an victim impact statement in court in which said "there is no recompense for the loss of a child, especially one that was so promising."
Yet her daughter's personality and Christian faith prompted her to reach out to those who were hurting, Cline Bass said.
"When I met Courtney in January, she was exactly the type of person my daughter would want to help," Cline Bass said. "Since January we've developed a close relationship. (Voorhees) is a friend. She made a mistake one day."
Voorhees is at least the fifth person in one year in Lyon County District Court to be charged with criminal vehicular homicide and criminal vehicular injury. Many of those have involved alcohol.
"We've seen so many cases where alcohol has caused tragedy for so many people," Judge Michelle Dietrich said.
"What's unique in this case is Courtney Voorhees has taken responsibility for her actions and spent a great deal of time with Morgan's parents speaking (about the incident)," Maes said in court.
Geihl and Paul Geihl, Voorhees' father, said their daughter has changed her life.
"She truly wants to make a difference in the world," Karen Geihl said.
"She's already made a difference," Paul Geihl said of people who shared with him after Voorhees and Cline's parents spoke in a Cottonwood church.
While Voorhees has taken responsibility, a pre-sentence investigation did not justify a reduction in a 41 month sentence, Maes said during and after the hearing.
"Truly, I would have liked to have seen a shorter sentence," Cline Bass said after the hearing.
But Bass Cline and Geihl are also convinced there are inmates in the women's prison in Shakopee who need to meet Voorhees and hear her story.
"Somebody there needs her more than we do here," Geihl said.
Ferrazzano and Maes also said they were hopeful Voorhees would share her story in prison and also after she is released.
"She's made a good start on it, hopefully she can continue," Maes said. "She will pay some consequences, and, hopefully, be in the same position when she comes out - sharing her story."
"I believe you are sincere in your decision (to help others)," Dietrich said in court. "But there is a price you need to pay for the actions you took that day and the price you are going to pay is time in prison. That doesn't mean there won't be an opportunity there for you to share your story. I think you have a powerful story to tell."