MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — It was an emotional day in court for the families of Yardeik Morales and Devinee Rooney. Judge Youngpeter, presiding over the case, also said it was a very difficult case for both sides.
Yardeik Morales-Mandera was convicted of criminally negligent homicide back in October for causing the death of 18-year-old Devinee Rooney in a four-car crash. The crash happened off Schillinger Road in May 2020. Rooney was three days shy of her high school graduation at Theodore High School.
“Last thing she said to me, she put a little sign in the ground and was proud, you know, my graduation sign,” said Terri Rooney, Devinee’s mother. “And she said, Mom, I’m gonna go get my nails done my eyelashes done because I’ve gotta work tomorrow. I don’t have time to do it for graduation. Hugged her. Told her I loved her. Last time I saw she was one minute away from home.”
Morales was sentenced to 10 years, but not all of it will be spent in jail. He will spend two years in jail and two years of formal probation. The remainder of his sentence is suspended meaning if he violates probation, he will spend the rest of his sentence in jail.
Morales’ conviction is a Class C felony. The jury found he was criminally negligent. Had Rooney survived the crash and been bruised badly, Morales would have faced a first-degree assault charge which is a Class B felony, and Morales would have had to serve 20 years in prison.
According to Assistant District Attorney Coy Morgan, the Alabama Split Sentencing Act only allows a maximum of two years in jail for Morales’ offense.
“This has raised attention to a huge flaw in the law,” said Morgan. “Very common sense correction that needs to be made. And the DA’s office is supportive of changing that law.”
Both families gave their victim statements before the court at Morales’ sentencing hearing Wednesday morning.
Terri Rooney looked Morales in his eyes, and she asked him, “why were you going that fast?”
Morales responded to her, “If you understand my state of mind during that time, I was depressed.”
Outside the courtroom, Terri Rooney explained that she just wants to know why he acted in a way that caused the death of her daughter.
“I wanted to know why he made the decisions that he did,” said Rooney. “When he, you know, got behind the wheel the car illegally, he didn’t have a driver’s license, the car wasn’t registered. Didn’t have insurance. Just everything was totally illegal.”
Devinee’s sister, Dezarae Rooney, spoke in front of the judge. “To know her was to love her.”
Yaderik’s mother, Yadzia Morales, spoke before the judge with tears in her eyes as she explains to her court that her son is truly remorseful for what he did.
“He didn’t go thinking that he was going to hurt somebody,” said Yadzia Morales, “He’s not the monster everyone on social media makes him out to be.”
Yaderik spoke before the court after his mother. With tears in his eyes, he explains how his letter was written all by himself and no one told him to write the letter to apologize to the victims.
“This tragedy eats at my soul,” he said. “I pray every night the Lord brings you peace.”
He finishes reading his letter by saying, “I’m sorry.”
Morales’ mother says the sentencing was fair.
“Well, we all know that he was going to be sentenced,” said Yadzia Morales. “He was guilty. And I understand. But I am, at ease because it was a fair sentencing. It was not unfair. It is not two lost lives now.”
Yaderik Morales’ attorney, Jonathan McCardle says Yaderik thinks about the accident constantly.
“It has been extremely emotional and tolling on him,” said McCardle. “He certainly did not want this to occur. And obviously, he’s been sitting in jail since May 2021.”
Devinee Rooney’s family says they want to keep their loved one’s memory alive, and they are working to forgive Yaderik Morales.
“I think our main goal for today was to just show the judge how much joy Devinee brought into everyone’s lives that we’re surrounded by her,” said Dezarae Rooney. “And I think that we accomplished that today by saying what we did.”
“I’m a very, I’m a Christian woman,” said Terri Rooney. “I’ve got to forgive in God’s eyes. And that’s what I’m trying to find in me to be able to do right now.”
Even though Morales was sentenced to serve two years in jail, he gets credit for the time he served in jail since May 2021. He is expected to get out of jail May 2023.
Once is released, he is expected to pay several fines, attend DUI classes, donate $1,000 to the American Breast Cancer Association, and pay $21,000 in restitution.