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Originally published Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Woman gets sentencing break in Ecstasy death

A judge ruled Wednesday that Donalydia Huertas, 19, will be sentenced in juvenile court after her conviction in the overdose death of 16-year-old Danielle McCarthy of Puyallup. The decision clears the way for Huertas to receive a standard sentencing range of up to 30 days in a juvenile jail, instead of the nearly 5-½ years in an adult prison that she could have faced if sentenced in adult court.

Seattle Times staff reporter

EVERETT — For more than a year and a half, the drug-overdose death of 16-year-old Danielle McCarthy has loomed over two Puyallup families.

While McCarthy's family and Snohomish County prosecutors sought a lengthy prison term for Donalydia Huertas, the woman who gave McCarthy the fatal dose of Ecstasy, Huertas has claimed the death was an accident and her attorney has fought for her to serve a short stint in a juvenile jail.

On Wednesday, the case neared its end in Huertas' favor. A Snohomish County judge ruled that Huertas will be sentenced in juvenile court, a decision that clears the way for the 19-year-old to receive a standard sentencing range of up to 30 days in a juvenile jail, instead of the nearly 5-½ years in an adult prison that she could have faced if sentenced in adult court.

Huertas, 19 and a recent high-school graduate, and her crowd of nearly 30 supporters cried and embraced after Superior Court Judge Ellen Fair's decision. Wayne Fricke, Huertas' attorney, was quick to say that it was "a sad case" and that nobody was celebrating.

Patrick and Lisa McCarthy, Danielle's parents, quickly left the courtroom.

"Danielle's life in the state of Washington is worth zero to 30 days. I would have died for her," Lisa McCarthy said later.

Fair said Huertas acted with "stupidity" by not coming to McCarthy's aid when the girl was overdosing. But since then, Fair said, Huertas has "gained some maturity."

The judge said the case has been "atypical" because judges are normally asked to move cases between the two courts before a defendant is convicted, not after. Fair said she struggled to find any court precedent to guide her while weighing her decision.

Huertas was 17 when McCarthy died on Jan. 1, 2007. She was initially charged with controlled-substance homicide in juvenile court. But prosecutors later amended the charge to the more severe first-degree manslaughter, and the case was transferred to adult court.

In June, however, a jury acquitted her of first-degree manslaughter and found her guilty of the lesser charges of controlled-substance homicide and second-degree manslaughter, which opened the possibility that the case could be moved back to juvenile court for sentencing — a decision made by Fair on Wednesday.

McCarthy was pronounced dead at Stevens Hospital in Edmonds after she spent hours overdosing, according to witnesses.

The night before, McCarthy, Huertas and David Morris drove from Puyallup to parties on the University of Washington's Greek Row and in Edmonds. Witnesses said that during the evening, McCarthy had taken Ecstasy that Huertas bought from Morris, according to charging papers.

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But after taking a second tablet, McCarthy grew sick, the charging papers say.

Around 4 a.m., McCarthy was incoherent and drifting in and out of consciousness while at a house party in Edmonds. When someone tried to awaken McCarthy about two hours later, the girl's face was cold and her lips were blue.

While Huertas told police she did what she could to save her friend, prosecutors said that Huertas ordered people not to help McCarthy. Huertas and Morris eventually drove McCarthy to the hospital.

Morris, 21, has since pleaded guilty to controlled-substance homicide and will serve part of his nearly five-year sentence in drug treatment.

Deputy Prosecutor Coleen St. Clair said that when Huertas is sentenced on Aug. 25, she will be seeking an exceptional sentence for juveniles in the state of Washington — incarceration until the defendant is 21.

"Miss Huertas, more than any other defendant I have ever seen, has shown a lack of remorse," St. Clair said during Wednesday's hearing. "She clearly does not understand she has done anything wrong in this case."

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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