Prosecutors upset with sentence for 23-time DWI offender

Associated Press

MOORHEAD, Minn. -- Clay County prosecutors are upset that a man who killed four high school students in a drunken driving accident 33 years ago has been sentenced to serve only a year in jail for his 23rd DWI conviction.

Under a Minnesota law that took effect last Aug. 1, drunken drivers with four or more offenses in 10 years can be charged with a felony and sentenced to seven years in prison.

James Lee Gullard, 52, of Lake Park, Minn., pleaded guilty to drunken driving Jan. 29 and could be released from the Clay County jail by Sept. 29 after serving eight months of the sentence. He qualifies for work release starting July 28.

Prosecutors had asked Judge Michael Kirk to sentence Gullard to four years in prison.


But the judge decided on a year in prison and placed Gullard on seven years of probation and banned him from places serving alcohol. He must spend 90 days in a halfway house, enter inpatient treatment upon being released from jail and submit to random testing.

"He has six prior DWI convictions in the past 10 years," said Assistant Clay County Attorney Stephanie Borgen. "(The sentence) was surprising and a little disappointing."

Borgen wanted Gullard to receive four years in prison because he is a chronic offender who hasn't taken advantage of probation.

But Gullard's attorney, Joe Parise, asked Kirk to follow staggered sentencing guidelines outlined by the state, which allow extended probation. He said Gullard has never been given a structured after-treatment program to follow.

The judge followed the state's guidelines.

"The judge has given him a last chance," Parise said.

Gullard killed four high school students in a drunken driving accident in March 1970 near Eagle River, Alaska. He was driving more than 70 mph when he crossed the center line and struck an oncoming car. Gullard said he has no memory of the fatal crash.

The two-car collision killed a passenger in Gullard's car and three cheerleaders returning from a high school wrestling match. He pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter and served 21⁄2; years of a 10-year prison term.


In 1984, Anchorage prosecutors gave Gullard the distinction of "worst drunken-driving offender in the state of Alaska." At the time, he had 12 drunken driving arrests in 15 years.

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