PEARLAND, Texas – A woman who was found criminally responsible for a Pearland officer’s death was sentenced to 32 years in prison Thursday.
"This has been a very long process to get to where we are today," said Pearland Police Chief Johnny Spires. "There are no winners. It’s a tragedy that could’ve been prevented. This case has affected many lives. Everybody has lost something."
On Thursday, Officer Endy Ekpanya's wife cried while the district attorney made her closing arguments to the jury, asking them to sentence Amber Willemsen to no less than 40 years in prison.
Willemsen was convicted by the jury Tuesday for hitting and killing the 30-year-old Ekpanya while she was driving under the influence.
"She robbed the community of a wonderful officer," Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne said. "She robbed his family. The people who are supposed to protect you are now the victims."
Willemsen's defense attorney told jurors she is an addict who should be treated and asked the jury to give her probation.
"She will live with the specter of going to prison if she doesn't comply with each and every condition," defense attorney Paul Kendall said.
During the punishment phase of her trial Wednesday, Willemsen tearfully asked jurors for a probated sentence.
She was the last witness heard, following a Harris County sheriff deputy who said he had arrested her two weeks before the crash for public intoxication and possession of methamphetamine.
"Most of the people in our society are wonderful people," said Yenne. "I believe she’s a small percentage that doesn’t care about other human beings. And I’m grateful that that’s a small percentage."
When her attorney asked her if she felt remorse for what she did, Willemsen replied, "Absolutely."
She tearfully told jurors, “I’ve tried to figure out why it was him instead of me.”
Before Ekpanya’s death in June 2016, it had been more than 40 years since a Pearland police officer was killed while on duty.
Ekpanya was traveling east along on FM 518 when Willemsen, who was driving west, crossed the center line and smashed into Ekpanya's patrol car head-on.
Investigators said Willemsen, who was already on probation for DWI, admitted she drank before and after leaving her job that night at the Ritz gentlemen's club in Houston.
However Thursday, the Brazoria County district attorney said perhaps a prior "intervention" in an earlier case could have prevented this officer's death.
"As you're aware, the testimony showed that this particular defendant had driven down the road June of 2015, had crashed another vehicle at that time and injured another citizen while drinking and driving, and no charges resulted from that and no arrest," said Yenne. "That's concerning."
Court records show that particular Houston police officer appeared to have never given a field sobriety test, telling the other driver that Willemsen was "not drunk enough for a DWI."
Documents show Willemsen was driving on U.S. 290 when she rear-ended another car twice, then reportedly drove off. The documents show Willemsen's airbags were deployed. The other driver told police she was injured and had found Willemsen's car and called police.
Yenne addressed testimony in court that indicated that officer had instead taken Willemsen to a restaurant to get sober.
The Brazoria County district attorney said they had subpoenaed the officer, but felt there was enough witness statements and evidence to prove Willemsen was intoxicated.
"That was concerning to us because perhaps if there had been some intervention -- we might not be here today," said Yenne.
Now, the community is mourning the loss of Officer Ekpanya.
"He took the place, he took the hit, if you will, for the citizen behind him. He was still protecting and serving at the time of his death. I want to thank the jury for giving a substantial sentence to this defendant and caring about the community," said Yenne.
The former Clear Lake assistant principal was convicted Tuesday of intoxication manslaughter of a peace officer. It took the jury a little more than two hours to reach the verdict.
When asking for a probated sentence Wednesday, she told the jury, “I sat in jail for a year and I’ve realized how completely selfish and reckless I’ve been. My goal is I want to get my counselor degree and help other alcoholics.”