DUI manslaughter trial of ex-major leaguer Leyritz on temporary hold; wrangling over evidence

Friday, September 17, 2010

Leyritz DUI manslaughter trial temporarily on hold

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The DUI manslaughter trial of former major league baseball player Jim Leyritz is temporarily on hold because of legal wrangling over key pieces of evidence.

Jury selection had been scheduled to begin Monday. But Leyritz attorney David Bogenschutz said the trial would be delayed while he seeks appeals a judge’s decisions on the evidence at the 4th District Court of Appeal.

Leyritz, who played for the New York Yankees and other teams over 11 seasons, is accused of driving drunk in December 2007 when he ran a red light and crashed into a vehicle driven by 30-year-old Fredia Ann Veitch, who was killed. Leyritz has pleaded not guilty.

Leyritz’s attorneys want to use evidence in the trial that Veitch’s blood-alcohol content was also above the legal limit, that she had been receiving cell phone text messages around the time of the crash and that she was not wearing a seat belt. But Broward County Circuit Judge Marc Gold ruled Thursday that none of that evidence is admissible.

Gold agreed with prosecutors, who cited rulings in similar DUI cases concluding that the key issue is which driver had the green light.

“Any such reference to the use of a cell phone or state of mind of the victim is purely speculative and an attempt to mislead and/or prejudice the jury against the victim,” wrote Assistant State Attorney Stefanie Newman in court papers. “Nor is it evidence which tends to prove or disprove the ultimate issue of fact … that is, who ran the red light.”

At least two witnesses have said that Veitch had the green light when the crash occurred, including a passenger in Leyritz’s vehicle.

Bogenschutz said he will ask the appeals court to “overturn those orders and permit the evidence before we begin trial.”

Leyritz, 46, faces a maximum 15-year prison sentence if convicted.

Mostly a catcher during his major league career, he is best remembered for a dramatic home run for the Yankees in the 1996 World Series against the Atlanta Braves that tied a game the Yankees went on to win in 10 innings. Leyritz hit .264 during his career with 90 homers and also played for the Angels, Rangers, Red Sox, Padres and Dodgers.

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