Bracing himself against a bench in the Johnson County Courthouse, Jim Lalla fought back tears as he thought of the trials and tribulations his family has faced over the years.
"My family has struggled for a long time," Lalla said, his eyes welling up. "It goes back a long way."
Those struggles reached their zenith Friday for Jim's sister, 51-year-old Miranda Lalla, who -- after years of drug, theft and parole violations -- pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide while driving under the influence. The class B felony could keep Lalla in prison for 25 years.
Miranda Lalla is accused of accidentally killing her friend, Pamela Gross, 44, of Iowa City, on June 17. Iowa City police said the two women had been at the Jobsite bar in Iowa City that night and Lalla drove them home. An argument took place in the parking that that escalated into a physical fight. When Lalla tried to leave the scene in her truck, she ran over Gross, who was standing next to the open driver's side door.
Gross was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Lalla's trial had been reset five times before she opted to plea guilty as charged. Assistant Johnson County Attorney Jude Pannell said he was "ready to go" to trial and deferred questions about Lalla's plea to her attorney, Brandon Shrock. After the hearing, Shrock said he couldn't comment on the case.
The Johnson County Attorney's Office did agree, however, that it would not try to prove Lalla fled the scene of the crime. If the state proved that element, a 70 percent mandatory minimum would be imposed on Lalla's sentence.
Miranda Lalla at times appeared to choke up as Judge Patrick Grady asked her if the state would have proved the crime she was accused of committing. She answered "yes" in response to each question. Finally, Grady asked her how she pleaded.
"Guilty," Lalla said, holding back a sob.About a dozen members of Gross's family were in attendance for Friday's brief hearing. They declined to comment afterward. They'll have an opportunity to make victim impact statements at Lalla's sentencing on Dec. 9. Lalla will also have an opportunity to address the family.