Monday, April 25, 2011

U is for Uncertain

This is Part II in a three-part post series about a trial on which I was an alternate juror this past month. If you are just arriving to my blog, please read the previous post, "T is for Trial by Jury," for background on the case. Tomorrow I will wrap things up with, "V is for Verdict."

The trial was riveting from the get-go. In opening arguments, the prosecution laid out its caseThe driver of the silver Jeep, Scott Owens, was drunk; his blood alcohol was twice the legal limit. Scott told police that he "must have blacked out." Avery Koffman, the 15-year-old driver of the red Subaru that Scott hit, had not been drinking. A witness would testify that he saw the Jeep's headlights coming at them in their lane of travel and that he then saw the Jeep swerve back into its own lane and slam into the red Subaru. An crash re-enactment expert would recreate the crash based on road evidence (skid marks), damage to the vehicles and where the vehicles came to rest, showing beyond a reasonable doubt that Scott had to have been driving in the wrong lane prior to the crash. Other experts would refute the defense's theory of how the crash occurred.

It sounded like a slam-dunk for the prosecution. But defense attorney Dan Cron shattered that illusion in a matter of minutes. He maintained that, though inebriated, Scott was driving the Jeep straight, in his correct lane of travel. The accident was actually caused, he said, by the first two cars in the party train colliding, sending the red Subaru veering into Scott's path. Supporting this contention would be not only a crash reconstruction expert for the defense, but also the tapes of the 911 call, in which it sounds like the teens at the scene were blaming each other for the crash immediately after it happened.

Well, it's one thing to make assertions in opening arguments and quite another to back them up with hard evidence. For five long, full days, the jury saw and heard this evidence:
  • The 911 call made by one of the teenagers in the minutes following the crash 
  • Police video of the scene within a half hour of the crash
  • Testimony from eight of the teens who had been in the party train vehicles
  • Testimony from police who responded to the scene and took statements
  • Photographs of road evidence such as skid marks and fluid spills
  • The actual wrecked vehicles - they were brought from impound to the courthouse for viewing
  • Testimony from an FBI expert on paints, polymers and epoxies
  • Parts of the vehicles (bumpers and side panels) that had been removed for additional analysis
  • Testimony from two crash reconstruction experts - one for each side - each presenting a different scenario as to how the crash occurred
  • Testimony from a mechanic who specializes in alignments
Ultimately, the case really came down to whether the jury would believe the crash scenario as laid out by the prosecution or the one presented by the defense. 

Both experts were professional and believable. They both used the damage to the vehicles and road evidence to do their analyses and explained their findings in layman's terms. What complicated the analysis and allowed there to be more than one interpretation was the fact that, while the red Subaru left long, curved skid marks on the road that made it easy to track its path, the Jeep left no braking or skid marks in either lane. Or, perhaps it did - the defense maintained that a very light tire mark in the defendant's lane, heading straight into the accident, was made by the Jeep.

But the defense's theory that the Jeep was in its own lane, going straight, seemed to be at odds with the fact that when the Jeep came to rest, its front tires were turned hard to the right. That's how the tires were at the scene, and that's how they were when the jury viewed the vehicles.

The very last witness was a mechanic who specialized in alignments. He was originally hired by the prosecution to check the steering on the Jeep. He became a defense witness though, because what he found was that the Jeep's Pitman arm was locked into the position it had been at the time of the crash, and with the Pitman arm in that position, the wheels would have to have been going straight. He found that, as a result of the crash, the vehicle's frame had broken, causing the wheels to turn to the right.

The defense rested.

In tomorrow's post, "V is for Verdict," I'll wrap up with a summary and let you know the jury's verdict.


  1. Wellllll being Melissa's husband, I know the outcome. However I find myself on the edge of my seat waiting for the VERDICT!

    Very nice post - Intense!

  2. Exactly the kinds of details necessary if one were writing a "crime" book. You've written this SO very well!

    And now the VERDICT...
    Ann Best, Memoir Author

  3. Thanks, Ann! There is so much more really, but trying to scope it down for the blog posting. Challenging!

  4. Very interesting! I had to scroll down and down my dashboard tonight to find the one blog I was looking for-- yours! Because I need to know what happens next! Looking forward to Verdict!

  5. Thanks Karen - tomorrow you'll find out!

  6. Very interesting summation. I'm so glad I found your blog. I'm stopping by from the A to Z challenge and I look forward to visiting again.

  7. So interesting, and this reads just like a crime novel. Can't wait to find out the verdict!


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