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Georgian diplomat gets seven to 21 in fatal crash

December 19, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A former Republic of Georgia diplomat, whose nation waived his immunity, was sentenced Friday to seven to 21 years in prison for the death of a Maryland teen-ager in a car crash.

Gueorgui Makharadze, who had been drinking heavily before the Jan. 3 crash, said he could he could only ``pray for forgiveness.″

It will be at least six years before Makharadze, formerly the second-highest ranking diplomat in the Georgian Embassy, is eligible for parole. Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Winfree said the sentence sends a message that ``diplomatic immunity is a shield and not a sword.″

The case had stirred debate about diplomatic immunity, which Georgia, a former Soviet republic, eventually waived for Makharadze.

``I would hope that diplomats, like any other motorists, would think twice before getting behind the wheel of the car when they’re intoxicated,″ Winfree said.

Makharadze, 36, pleaded guilty in October to one count of involuntary manslaughter and four counts of aggravated assault. He could have been sentenced to up to 70 years in prison.

The five-car pileup on Dupont Circle near Embassy Row killed 16-year-old Jovianne Waltrick of Kensington, Md., and injured four others.

Speaking in a barely audible voice, Makharadze told the court, ``I only wish I could undo what I have done.″

Turning to Viviane Wagner, the dead girl’s mother, he said: ``I want you to know I will bear the guilt and pain of having caused the death of your daughter every day.″

In handing down the sentence, District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Harold Cushenberry said the former diplomat ``voluntarily chose to ignore the risks″ of drinking and driving.

``Like too many others, he simply hoped nothing bad would happen,″ Cushenberry said.

The judge praised President Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia for waiving Makharadze’s diplomatic immunity, calling the decision ``courageous.″

He said the relatively harsh sentence was not a response to the debate over diplomatic immunity but rather was based on Makharadze’s record of driving offenses.

In April 1996, Makharadze was charged with speeding in Virginia. Four months later, he was detained by District of Columbia police who suspected him of drunken driving but released after claiming diplomatic immunity.

Georgia’s government said in a statement it ``trusts that Mr. Makharadze will be treated with fairness, dignity and forgiveness during his imprisonment and thereafter.″

State Department spokesman James Foley said the sentence was fair. ``We believe that justice has been done,″ he said.

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