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Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
Email: tdall@wwltv.com | Twitter: @taniadall

NEWORLEANS-- It is, perhaps, a chance to finally move forward for the family of a New Orleans 911 dispatcher killed by a drunk driver, as Andrew Merchant will spend nearly a decade behind bars after pleading guilty to vehicular homicide.

But the family of the woman killed feel Merchant's sentence is too light.

'I miss her every day, every day. I wake up in the morning sometimes and I just cry because I love her,' said Rhoda Brown, talking about her late sister.

The love felt for Paulette Brown by her family will never die. The 51-year-old was tragically killed last September driving to work. She was hit head-on by a jeep going the wrong way against traffic on I-610.

Police say Merchant was behind the wheel. Court records show the 28-year-old's blood-alcohol content was three times the legal limit.

'It was a long process. I'm happy that it came to an end today, but no amount of time that Andrew Merchant receives is enough for me because it will never replace my mom's life,' said Phyllisia Hills.

Nearly six months after Brown's death, the man accused of vehicular homicide withdrew his not guilty plea on Friday. He entered a guilty one. Brown's family watched the court proceedings first-hand getting a chance to share with the judge their pain.

'My feelings towards him. How I feel about the situation, that he took my mother away from me,' said Kenneth Crawford, Brown's son.

'People in the courtroom who we didn't even know had tears in their eyes,' added Hills.

The close-knit family is now trying to come to terms with the hard labor sentence Merchant received.

'He's a first time offender. I kinda get it, but it is still hurting on that my mother's life is only worth 7 and a half years,' said Crawford.

'There was also a significant number of family and friends in the court in support of Ms. Brown. That's always comforting from our perspective to see. Fortunately or not, it did not weigh into the judge's decision as significantly as we had hoped,' said Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzarro.

The District Attorney's Office says Merchant, by law, faced between 5 and 30 years behind bars. The 28-year-old won't be eligible for probation or parole.

'The judge did impose a legal sentence. Our hands, to some extent, are tied because we did not have any prior record that we could demonstrate to the judge,' added Cannizzarro.

There is no way of bringing back Paulette --- a mother, daughter, aunt, sister and dedicated public servant -- but now her family hopes to finally heal.

'We have a conclusion, we have an ending to something that's been going on for months. Now we can say he can start serving his time,' said Rhoda Brown.

Merchant did turn and face Brown's family to apologize in court on Friday. They say his only words were: 'I'm sorry.'

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