Janesville native Toby Kubler found his wife, Aimee, dead at the side of the road in 2002.
The 28-year-old had been jogging near their home in the Dane County town of Primrose when she was hit by a passing car.
Nathan L. Leopold of Janesville was convicted of homicide by negligent driving and hit-and-run involving death. He was sentenced to five years and seven months in prison.
Kubler participated in a restorative justice program in which he met Leopold, and Leopold asked for forgiveness.
Kubler forgave him, and Leopold agreed never to drive drunk again and always carry a picture of Aimee in his wallet to remind him to be careful when driving.
Then, on October 20, 2017, it happened again.
Leopold crossed the centerline on Highway 11 between Brodhead and Juda and crashed head-on into a vehicle driven by David P. Leck, 70, of Juda.
Leck died, and Leck’s granddaughter, Emily E. Withee of Brodhead, then 12, was injured.
“When I found out he killed another person, I felt responsible, and my mind flashed back,” Kubler said in a telephone interview this week from his home in Hawaii.
Kubler recalled evidence that suggested Leopold was drunk when he killed Aimee in 2002. He now regrets not pushing Dane County authorities to pursue drunken-driving charges and to take the matter to a jury.
For the 2017 death of Leck, Leopold pleaded no contest in May to homicide by driving with a restricted controlled substance in his blood, a felony, and causing injury by driving with a restricted controlled substance in his blood, a misdemeanor.
Leopold admitted to smoking synthetic marijuana and having two beers at a bar after work in Monroe before heading home to Janesville.
As part of a plea agreement, counts of homicide and causing injury by intoxicated driving were dismissed but included in the record for consideration at sentencing.
Green County Judge Thomas Vale on Wednesday sentenced Leopold to 15 years in prison—the maximum prison sentence for the felony—and five years of extended supervision.
Kubler and Leck’s family had asked for a maximum sentence.
Vale also gave Leopold five years of extended supervision after prison—five fewer years than District Attorney Craig Nolen requested.
Vale also sentenced Leopold to nine months on the misdemeanor but allowed him to serve that time at the same time as his prison sentence.
Leopold is already serving a sentence on a bail-jumping conviction. That sentence ends in October 2022, when his 15-year sentence for killing Leck begins. He will be released in 2037, when he is 65.
Vale ruled after a lengthy hearing Wednesday, when Leck’s family talked tearfully about the man they lost. Family members recalled him as his grandchildren’s greatest cheerleader, who would not say goodbye to them without many hugs.
They called him generous and cheerful to a fault, their rock and the glue that held them all together.
They also expressed anger. Granddaughter Madalyn Leck, gasping for breath as she sobbed, called Leopold a monster.
“To say I am angry is an understatement,” said Leck’s daughter-in-law Kristine Leck, adding that when Leopold gets released, “You’ll probably ruin another family’s life.”
Leck’s daughter Teresa Withee said she cried herself to sleep for five months and has been in counseling ever since.
“I’m just thankful he got the maximum he could get,” Teresa Withee said after the hearing.
“Our main thing is stopping anyone else from having to go through this,” added Leck’s son Michael.
Leck’s daughter Kori Sagen said the grief is unimaginable. She recalled her father telling her the day he died that he had at least 17 more years to live, and that it was going to be a great day, something he said often.
Leck’s widow, Shirley Leck, said in a letter that while she has a place to live, she feels homeless without her husband.
Emily Withee described her terror as she screamed for help after the crash.
“Please help my grandpa,” she pleaded to a man who shielded her from seeing what had happened.
“Why couldn’t it have been me?” she said, sobbing.
District Attorney Craig Nolen argued that this is one of the few cases that a maximum sentence is appropriate, given the gravity of the offense and the previous death Leopold caused.
Defense attorney Steven Zaleski noted Leopold’s criminal record, which didn’t go beyond the two deaths and an intoxicated-driving conviction in 1995 and includes no violent offenses.
Leopold has been employed his entire life, is close to his family and was a lifelong resident of the Brodhead area. Judges are required to consider these “pro-social” aspects of his character, Zaleski noted.
Maximum sentences should be reserved for those with a long, violent criminal past, and Zaleski said Vale also had to consider that Leopold took responsibility for his crime by pleading no contest.
Zaleski said the level of marijuana in Leopold’s blood was far below the threshold for intoxication in marijuana-legal states Colorado and Washington, and his blood-alcohol level was 0.021, far below the legal limit.
But Vale noted Leopold was on probation, with rules saying he was not to drink or take drugs.
Leopold gave a short apology, saying he knows it doesn’t help, but he is sorry for the pain he caused.
Vale also considered a letter to the court written by Kubler.
“I did not see him as a monster. … I believed him with all my heart and never imagined he would ever drive dangerously or intoxicated again,” Kubler wrote.
“I still forgive Nathan for killing my wife, and my heart goes out to all those involved in the crime in question,” Kubler continued. “But … I can’t help but wonder if the death of my wife, Aimee, and now Mr. David Leck, could have been prevented if he would have been held responsible for the crimes he actually committed and not the lesser charges (he was convicted of in 2002).”
Kubler asked Vale to do everything he could to ensure Leopold can never kill anyone again.
“I don’t see any assurance of this happening unless he spends the rest of his life incarcerated,” Kubler wrote.
Kubler told The Gazette that because Leopold will not get a life sentence, “I just think I’ll get another email somewhere down the road and hear, ‘Guess what, he killed another person.’”
Meanwhile, Kubler’s mind often returns to the night Aimee died. He has since remarried, and he thinks of what happened to Aimee every time his wife leaves the house.
Therapy has helped, he said, but he feels panic every time he hears a siren when his wife is not with him.