Dressed in a green prison uniform, 22-year-old Matthew Cordle addressed the Columbus, Ohio, courtroom before Judge David Fais handed down his sentence.
“Whatever my sentence may be, the true punishment is living,” Cordle said.
He was also ordered to pay court costs and a $1,075 fine.
Cordle pleaded guilty in September to aggravated vehicular homicide and operating a vehicle while impaired. He made headlines when he posted a YouTube video on September 3 confessing to driving while drunk and killing 61-year old Vincent Canzani on June 22. Several days after the video appeared online, Cordle surrendered to authorities and was charged for his involvement in the wrong-way crash.
Cordle told a judge at a September hearing that he did not remember the night of June 22 because he “blacked out” from drinking too much. He also told the judge that he had not had any alcohol since the night of the accident, and that he had attended a two-week alcohol rehabilitation program.
Wednesday morning, Cordle’s confession video was played in the courtroom. Fais said he felt it would be beneficial for the video to be viewed because it was about “more than Mr. Cordle.” He said it was about society and the “epidemic” of drugs and alcohol problems he sees in his courtroom.
After the video was shown, the judge read two letters aloud. The first was from the victim’s ex-wife, Cheryl Canzani Oates. In her letter, Oates said her former husband would not want to see two lives lost as a result of this incident. She said she didn’t believe Canzani would want to see Cordle receive the maximum sentence and that she believes Cordle was “sincere in admitting he was sorry” that he took another man’s life.
“Nothing will bring Vincent back,” Oates said in the letter. “I know what pain Matthew feels. The pain will stay with him until his death.”
The second letter was from Herald Dennis, Jr., who survived what’s called the nation’s worst drunken driving crash in the spring of 1988 in Carrollton, Kentucky. Dennis said he lost several friends and suffered third-degree burns on his body “as a result of one man’s decision to drive drunk.” In his letter, Dennis said he has waited 25 years for a “simple acknowledgment or remorse” from the man who caused his accident. Dennis said Cordle showed “courage to surrender and take responsibility for his actions and show contrition to the family of his victim.”
Rising to speak on behalf of her father was the victim’s daughter, Angela Canzani. Addressing the video, she said, “I’ve heard about a message. The message we don’t want to hear is that if you hit and kill someone — and admit to it — you get away with it.”
“My father got a death sentence. Eight-and-a-half years is nothing,” she told the judge, referring to the maximum sentence Cordle could have received. “After eight-and-a-half years, Matthew Cordle will have his life back — my father is never coming back.”
Cordle was the last to speak at the hearing. He offered another apology to the victim’s family.
“It should have been me instead of an innocent man. I vow that I’ll do everything I can to prevent it from happening again and his memory from fading.”
Asked Thursday what he thought about the sentence, Cordle told CNN’s “New Day” from jail that “there is really no fair sentence when it comes to the loss of life.”
“It’s just time, and time won’t bring back the victim, unfortunately,” Cordle told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “I’m just glad that the family can have some measure of closure, and I hope that they find peace throughout this.”
Cordle said he was “going to do everything I can to walk out of prison a better man than I walked in.” He said he struggled with drinking, and had been a drunken driver before the night of the fatal crash.
“I think the bad statistic is that first-time DUI offenders drink and drive 80 times before they get caught, and that is definitely a category I fall under,” he said. “I can’t believe I didn’t see something like this coming. That was one of the biggest emotions that I had throughout this, was frustration with myself.”
Asked about Angela Canzani’s feelings about him and his video, Cordle said he understands, and he doesn’t want to cause her pain. But his message — pleading with people not to drink and drive — is “one that is very necessary,” he said.
“The whole point of it is so people don’t have to feel the pain that she’s feeling, and I hope to prevent that,” he said.
By Kisa Mlela Santiago with contribution from CNN’s Jason Hanna and Lateef Mungin.