Saying that she has never had anyone appear before her with a worse drunken-driving record, a state judge on Wednesday ordered a 55-year-old Billings man to serve 20 years at Montana State Prison.
District Judge Susan Watters imposed the sentence on William Dean Grussing for what a prosecutor said was his 14th DUI conviction.
Watters told Grussing that public safety, and his own need for treatment, demanded the lengthy prison term.
"I don't think you're a bad man, Mr. Grussing, but I think there's just no way in the world you can get a handle on this yourself, and unfortunately it has taken you this long to figure that out," the judge said.
Grussing, who was sentenced as a persistent felony offender, spoke for several minutes at the hearing. He apologized, saying he has no plans to drink alcohol again and is ready for treatment.
"This is a negative thing in my life, and it's haunted me my whole life," Grussing said.
In November, Grussing received a standard 13-month sentence for felony DUI — what authorities said at the time was his 12th DUI offense — after Watters and Deputy County Attorney Robert Spoja pointed out what they described as a loophole in the law.
Grussing could not be ordered to serve a longer sentence because he had not completed a state alcohol treatment program within the previous five years. He also could not be sentenced as a persistent felony offender because his most recent offense happened more than five years ago.
Not so this time, Watters said as she began to explain the reason behind the sentence she imposed.
Grussing was out on bond for his fourth felony DUI offense in June 2011 and awaiting trial when in June of last year he was charged with a new felony DUI offense and a misdemeanor charge of criminal contempt.
At the time, prosecutors said the offenses were his 12th and 13th DUIs. On Wednesday, Spoja said a recent review of his record revealed another prior DUI conviction.
"I don't know if I've ever had anyone in front of me who had 14 lifetime DUIs," Watters said.
The judge said Grussing has nine prior misdemeanor and four prior felony DUI convictions.
Grussing's court-appointed attorney, David Arthur, said Grussing got his first DUI in 1982 at the age of 25, and he received two more that same year. Before his 30th birthday, Arthur said, Grussing would receive three more DUIs.
Grussing pleaded guilty to his 13th offense and was sentenced in November to 13 months in state custody, followed by five years of probation. The sentence is the standard maximum allowed under state law for felony DUI.
But because of that conviction, Grussing was sentenced Wednesday as a persistent felony offender, which carries a possible sentence enhancement of 100 years.
Spoja, the prosecutor, asked Watters to impose a prison sentence of 25 years. He also asked that Grussing be ineligible for parole until after serving 10 years of the sentence to make sure he completed alcohol treatment.
"Frankly, the defendant threatens the safety of every member of out community and will continue to do so if he is not incarcerated," Spoja said.
Arthur said that while there are no excuses, Grussing has had difficulties in his life that may help explain his addiction. Although alcohol has been a lifelong struggle, Grussing did maintain employment in the past and helped raise three children into responsible and successful adults, Arthur said.
Grussing attended a 28-day treatment program in 1991 and has had stretches of sobriety, the defense attorney said. The death of his father in 1996 and the more recent separation from his wife may have contributed to his most recent alcohol problems, he said.
Grussing wants his life to serve as a "cautionary tale" for others, Arthur said. He recommended the judge impose a prison sentence of 20 years, with 10 years suspended.
Grussing told the judge he would like in the future to use his experience to warn others, especially youngsters, away from alcohol. He said he started drinking with his father at age 14 and had been an alcoholic his entire life.
"My drinking, it will never happen again," he said.
Watters said there is no doubt that Grussing is a "terrible alcoholic," but it was his choice to drink and drive and that choice placed every member of the community at risk.
Watters also ordered that Grussing not be eligible for parole until he has finished a state alcohol treatment program. She ordered Grussing to serve a six-month concurrent sentence for the misdemeanor, and she said both sentences would run concurrent to the sentence he received in November.
Grussing thanked the judge after being told of his sentence.
"I thank the Lord I never hurt nobody, too," he said.