Ashley Johnigan, the 24-year-old Santa Barbara resident who was convicted in the death of Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office investigator Laura Cleaves, was sentenced to 15 years in prison Thursday.

Johnigan was convicted in September of second-degree murder and vehicular manslaughter in the May 2008 crash that killed Cleaves, a senior investigator with the District Attorney’s Office.

Johnigan crashed head-on into Cleaves while both were driving on Highway 154 near the intersection of Highway 246 in Santa Ynez. The prosecution maintained that Johnigan had been drinking heavily at a Santa Ynez bar, and a 9-1-1 caller had alerted California Highway Patrol officers that a driver in a black Mercedes-Benz was possibly drunk.

Cleaves, 53, died at the scene, and a third motorist was injured in the fiery crash.

Cleaves had been an employee of the District Attorney’s Office since 1984, and her murder case was prosecuted by an attorney from the state Attorney General’s Office.

At the time of her death, Cleaves had been investigating Orson Mozes, who ran a Montecito-based adoption company and pleaded guilty earlier this year to fraud charges. He is now serving a three-year prison sentence.

Cleaves was married to sheriff’s Sgt. Steven Cleaves, and they were the parents of two grown daughters.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at

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