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Former UAB football player apologizes, pleads guilty in nurse practitioner’s police chase death: ‘I will pray for you,’ twin sister says

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It was a moment of remorse, mercy, forgiveness, and tears in a Jefferson County courtroom Monday morning.

The man charged in the Vestavia Hills police chase that ended with a crash that killed a Homewood woman pleaded guilty to her death and offered a public apology to her family.

Jordan Marktice Ricks, 30, was charged with reckless murder in the April 26, 2021, death of 42-year-old Robyn Naftel Herring, a UAB nurse practitioner and mother of two.

Her two young daughters were in the vehicle at the time of the deadly crash.

Ricks, a former UAB football player who was previously lauded for his entrepreneurial success as college student, issued his guilty plea on Friday.

He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter in return for a 17-year prison sentence.

He also pleaded guilty to felony attempting to elude and obstruction of justice. He received 10 years each on those convictions.

As part of Ricks’ plea, a charge of leaving the scene of an accident with injury or death was dismissed.

A jury had already been picked and testimony was to begin today.

Though Ricks pleaded guilty on Friday, court was still held today because Ricks wanted to apologize to Herring’s family.

“This was a terrible, terrible accident that I will regret for the rest of my life,’’ Ricks told Herring’s three sisters, including her identical twin.

“The tears I’ve shed since I’ve been locked up since that tragic accident occurred have not been for me but for Katelyn and Abby (Herring’s young daughters.) No child should have to witness that.”

“God knows my heart and I feel terrible about putting those girls through that,’’ Ricks said. “I took this plea so your family would not have to watch that horrific video over and over.”

“I pray that God will give your family peace and healing,’’ he said. “I pray that He gives you the strength to someday forgive me. I pray that He’s forgiven me.”

Herring’s oldest sister, Kelly Finch, was the first to speak to Ricks. She thanked Ricks for his apology.

“Hatred is not going to bring her back so I want you to know that our family forgives you because God would want us to and you’re a son of God just like I’m a daughter of God,’’ she said.

“What you’ve done is wrong but you know that. You’ve apologized. God forgives you and we forgive you.”

“I pray that Robyn’s legacy will live on by the decisions that you make,’’ Finch said. “You’re going to have to have a great opportunity to minister those around you.”

A tearful Jefferson County Circuit Judge Teresa Pulliam said this: “It’s truly been a privilege to witness what I’ve witnesses this morning.”

Ricks, who battled multiple injuries as an athlete, previously played at Homewood High School and then Wenonah.

He was the football player who recorded the passionate speech of teammate Tristan Henderson moments after UAB president Ray Watts told his school’s football team he was ending the program in 2014.

Authorities have said Ricks was stopped for speeding about a quarter of a mile before the Lakeshore Parkway exit that Monday evening.

When the officer returned to his patrol car to conduct a wanted person check, the suspect sped away.

The officer attempted to catch up to the suspect and, once exiting I-65 at Lakeshore, came across the fatal crash that investigators say was caused by Ricks.

Herring’s cause of death was was “crush injuries to the head-motor vehicle collision.”

At a previous hearing, Homewood Sgt. Cameron Beedle said the ordeal began on I-65 in Vestavia Hills when Vestavia Hills Police Officer Mollus was running radar and clocked a Nissan Juke traveling at 70 mph in a 60-mile-per-hour zone.

The officer asked the driver – later determined to be Ricks – for his driver’s license.

Ricks didn’t have the license with him but produced a picture of the license. Mollus went back to his patrol vehicle to run a check on Ricks and Ricks took off at a high rate of speed.

Mollus saw Ricks exit the interstate at Lakeshore and followed him, then coming upon the crash. The length of time from the moment Ricks fled the stop to the crash that killed Herring was 29 seconds, Beedle testified.

The stop was recorded on the officer’s dash cam. He was not wearing a body camera.

Beedle said evidence showed that when the Juke exited onto Lakeshore Parkway, the driver lost control, traveled across both eastbound lanes, struck the median, went airborne and then crashed in the military-style civilian Jeep that was driven by Herring’s boyfriend, John Holley.

Herring was in the front passenger’s seat and her two daughters, ages 8 and 10, were in the back seat.

The Jeep was stopped at a traffic light which had turned green only moments before the crash. Holley was in the process of starting to accelerate when the Jeep was truck.

The force of the impact caused the Jeep to spin about 90 degrees and then roll over onto the passenger’s side, Beedle said. Herring was pronounced dead on the scene at 6:55 p.m.

Mollus stopped to render aid to the victims.

A motorist stopped behind the victims’s vehicle assisted in getting Holley and Herring’s two daughters out of the wreckage. They were unharmed.

The suspect bailed from his wrecked car and fled on foot. Despite a massive manhunt that included officers from multiple agencies and a helicopter, Ricks managed to escape the large perimeter set up by police.

Ricks was taken into custody three days later – Thursday, April 29 – at an apartment in Tuscaloosa by members of the U.S. Marshals Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force and Tuscaloosa police.

Authorities tracked Ricks to the apartment, in the 1100 block of Hargrove Road East, from Dolomite.

A female answered the door, but Ricks refused to come out, officials said. After 20 minutes of negotiations, Ricks surrendered without incident, according to law enforcement.

Once in custody, Ricks was brought back to Jefferson County and taken to Brookwood to be checked out for injuries he said he sustained in a wreck.

Shortly after the suspect was arrested, he made this statement to police:

“I didn’t kill anyone. Vestavia was trying to kill me. That officer pulled his gun on me and pointed it at me. I had to get away. I ran away from the wreck cause they was gonna kill me. I was gonna turn myself in this afternoon. I had already talked to a lawyer.”

Herring was described as a “very bright and beautiful young woman who loved life and lived every day to the fullest.”

“She had an undeniable love for the outdoors and whether she was biking, hiking, running, or just playing with the girls in the backyard, that was her element,’’ according to her obituary. “She was active in her church and prayer groups and was surrounded by a community network of friends and family who loved her dearly.”

Herring, the obituary said, worked hard to become a successful nurse practitioner and dedicated her life to helping her patients through some of the most difficult times of their lives.

Herring was a 1997 graduate of Auburn High School. She graduated from nursing school at Auburn University Montgomery in 2005. She became a nurse practitioner in 2018. She worked in multiple departments at UAB and the Kirklin Clinic and was most recently Transplant Coordinator before her death.

“As a nurse she knew the value of a good bedside manner and went above and beyond to nurture and care for those who she had the privilege of treating,” her obituary read. “She considered her job as her spiritual duty and selflessly served others with compassion and love.”

Herring’s family on Monday thanked all involved including Vestavia and Homewood police, Jefferson County Chief Deputy District Attorney Joe Roberts, lead detective Beedle, Judge Pulliam and Officer Mollus, who got Herring’s children out of the wreckage.

“What he had to experience nobody should have to experience and we know God has a special calling on that young man’s life,’’ Finch said.

Herring’s youngest sister, Shannon Naftel, said there were no winners in this case.

“I keep questioning why Robyn’s life was taken but Jordan’s was spared,’’ she told the court. “Robyn was an angel on earth.”

Being a mother was her life’s purpose, Naftel said. “She was living her best life.”

“The only answer that has come to me is that Robyn lived her best life as as short as it was and how tragic it was taken,’’ Naftel said. “God must have a plan for you, Jordan, and maybe your testimony one day can change the lives of others.”

Brandy Stewart, Herring’s twin, said she wakes up every morning waiting to talk to her sister and described her as a light.

“You are forgiven and I will pray for you,’’ Stewart said. “We appreciate you not making us go through this all over again.”

Prosecutor Roberts said he is pleased with the resolution.

“Robyn Herring, her boyfriend and her two daughters were on their way to watch the sunset on April 26, 2021,’’ said Roberts, who was prosecuting the case along with Lauren Breland. “Due to the defendant’s decision to run from the police Robyn never got to see that sunset.”

“The defendant fled from a lawful traffic stop by a Vestavia police officer and crashed into the Jeep where Robyn was a passenger killing her,’’ Roberts said. “That beautiful afternoon turned to tragedy, loss and sorrow for Robyn’s family, friends and her Homewood community.”

Roberts said Herring’s family is satisfied with the settlement and the fact that the defendant admitted his guilt.

Finch agreed.

“We’re all going to make a mistake but let’s come in and do something good,’’ she said. “That’s our prayer.”

“He’ll have to serve his time,’’ she said. “But make it count and do something right with the disaster and horror that everybody’s had to go through.”

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