Eugene Butler Jr.’s daughter will be the same age when he is released from prison as Vanessa Mauffray was when he killed her through gross negligence in a boating wreck on Bayou Caddy.
Nobody won in court Monday, Judge Larry Bourgeois said when he sentenced Butler to 12 years in prison for committing manslaughter in the June 2016 death of Mauffray,19, whose family said a part of them died with her.
“She should not have died on that bayou out there,” Bourgeois said. “ . . . Her life was short and there’s nobody’s fault it was but yours,” the judge told Butler.
Butler, a habitual offender who is 47 years old, will not be eligible for early release. His partner wanted their 7-year-old daughter to have a chance to say goodbye to Butler before he leaves the Hancock County jail for state prison.
But Bourgeois said that he is not going to tell the sheriff how to run his jail and also that Vanessa’s family will never get to see her again.
Butler is ineligible for early release because he is a habitual offender. He has served prison time for possession of marijuana and, earlier this year, was convicted of grand larceny for stealing a stop sign that he says he found on the ground.
Butler, who owns a construction company, told Vanessa’s family he is sorry about what happened, is depressed and thinks about the wreck daily.
Vanessa lost her life while she was out with her boyfriend setting crab traps on the bayou. Butler rounded a curve in his boat, speeding, and broadsided their boat. Seconds before the crash, according to testimony in the four-day trial, he was looking back at his engine.
Vanessa’s family told the judge how her death has shattered their lives.
They feel guilty, as if they could have done something to prevent it. Butler’s sentencing will not end their pain, they said.
She and her mother, Darlene Deschamp, talked and texted morning, noon and night.
“My whole life has been turned upside down,” Deschamp said in the victim-impact statement she wanted to share in court. Vanessa’s big sister Victoria McKinley wound up reading the statement because Deschamp could not talk through her tears.
“Anxiety, nightmares, trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, change in lifestyle, attending counseling — all with no energy to enjoy life,” Deschamp’s statement said.
“Not many people can say they have the perfect life, but I did. The pain and suffering I have been through is unbearable. I’ve lost the ability to function normally.
“I’ve lost part of me, and my other children have lost the mother they’ve always known. They lost the mother that has always been there for them no matter what. Even though I am present physically, my mind is always wanting my children together.”
McKinley told the judge about looking at her sister’s blood-stained hands and chipped fingernails in the hospital while she was on life support with no hope of recovery.
Victoria would never get the chance to manicure Vanessa’s nails again, she thought.
“Surely a miracle would happen if I begged hard enough,” she remembers thinking. “I wiped away blood from her forehead and arm. I wiped the blood from her lips.
“I knew this would be some of the last things I would ever be able to do for my sister. I refused to let anyone else steal time from us. When the time came to leave her, I’m not sure how I did.”
Vanessa did not like to be alone. She and her sister slept in the same room together by choice as girls. After Victoria gave birth to her son Cade, Vanessa spent all the time she could with her nephew, who is now 6 years old.
He was been asking for his “Nessa” since she died. His questions never stop. His latest question, his mother’s victim impact statement said: “Where do we pick Nessa up when court is over?”
Her father, Stacy Mauffray, wrote:
“I’ve cried more in the last three years than I have cried in my entire life. Sometimes it’s a smell or a song or a thought. I never know what will start it.
“I deal with constantly having the guilt of not being able to do anything to help Vanessa. I deal with the guilt I feel when I go on vacation or the movies or a fair or anything with my family to have fun. I always come to the thought that Vanessa can never do anything again.”
Vanessa’s brother Victor Mauffray sent in a statement but could not bear to be in court.
“Losing someone you grew up with that you were supposed to protect your whole life, your baby sister, is a gut-wrenching feeling,” he said. “You can’t explain how you really feel because you just can’t find the words.”