In a deal with prosecutors, Raymond Morua pleaded guilty Tuesday to manslaughter, hit-and-run and other charges, accepting a fate that will include a prison sentence of 20 years to life.
Morua, a former aide to Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, admitted to charges that he was driving while intoxicated when he struck a 27-year-old woman as she was crossing the street on Dec. 6, 2013, in downtown Santa Barbara.
The victim, Mallory Rae Dies, was taken off life support Dec. 11, 2013, five days after suffering massive head injuries.
According to Santa Barbara police, Morua's blood-alcohol level — 0.17 percent — was more than twice the legal limit at which a driver is considered drunk at the time of the incident.
The deal between prosecutors and the defense — which had been hinted at for weeks — was made public in a Santa Barbara courtroom where friends and family of Dies and Morua were present in full force.
Dressed in a dark, pinstriped suit but hampered by handcuffs, Morua pleaded guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, a felony, and to causing great bodily injury, as well as acknowledging his prior DUI convictions in Ventura.
Morua also admitted to a special allegation of fleeing the scene after the crime, which carried a penalty of an additional five consecutive years in prison.
Judge James Voysey explained the plea to Morua, who replied “guilty” after each charge was repeated for court record.
Morua is scheduled to return to court May 28 for sentencing, and is expected to spend at least 10 years in prison before he’s eligible for parole, according to Arnie Tolks, senior deputy district attorney, who prosecuted the case.
Morua's defense attorney, Darryl Genis, said he told his client he should expect to serve at least 17 years before being eligible for parole.
The original charges — murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in death — carried a punishment of 15 years to life in prison if convicted.
As part of the plea, Morua also agreed to pay a to-be-determined amount of restitution, submit a formal apology to the Dies family and to participate in an anti-DUI video.
Dies father, Matt Dies, exhaled in relief after the plea was signed, wiping tears from his eyes.
Outside the courtroom, Dies said he was pained to hear the voice of the man who killed his child, noting the family’s push for Morua to speak in a video — made in conjunction with Mothers Against Drunk Driving — to prevent another family from suffering.
“It was pretty hard and emotional for me in there today,” he said. “It helps to close a chapter. This is something that will go on obviously for the rest of my life.”
Dies called on Capps’ office to acknowledge that Morua was on the job when he attended a holiday party that evening, an action seconded by Morua’s attorney.
Genis said he was proud Morua accepted responsibility for his actions, adding that he only entered a not guilty plea last month as a formality to move the case to the larger Department 12 courtroom.
“I can tell you that Raymond was crying” while signing the plea, Genis said. “And I truly believe that his tears were tears of remorse.”
Dies said he was “satisfied” — not happy — with the plea and that he would work on a victim impact statement to read during next month’s sentencing.