Man accused in Angels pitcher death guilty of driving on bad license; jury mulls murder counts

By Gillian Flaccus, AP
Saturday, September 25, 2010

Calif judge renders partial verdict in DUI case

SANTA ANA, Calif. — A judge has found the man accused of killing rookie Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two others guilty of driving on a suspended license, but the jury is still deliberating other charges, including three counts of murder.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard Toohey found 23-year-old Andrew Gallo guilty of driving on a suspended license during a short bench trial Friday morning.

Gallo had previously asked to have that count separated from the other six counts and waived his right to a jury trial on that charge.

Gallo has pleaded not guilty to three counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of 22-year-old Adenhart, 20-year-old Courtney Stewart and 25-year-old Henry Pearson.

The jury got the case Thursday after a two-week trial.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A man charged with murder in a drunken-driving collision that killed rookie Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two others only took the wheel when his stepbrother became too intoxicated to fill his role as the designated driver, the defendant’s attorney said.

Andrew Gallo’s attorney, Jacqueline Goodman, said in her closing arguments Thursday that by the time Gallo’s stepbrother asked him to drive, Gallo was too drunk to realize it was a bad idea.

“He’s drinking beer after beer with a ride. He’s got a ride,” Goodman said. “Drinking to a 0.22 or a 0.24, is it bad? Maybe. But if you do it with no intent to drive, it’s not wrong.”

Gallo, 23, has pleaded not guilty to three counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of 22-year-old Adenhart, 20-year-old Courtney Stewart and 25-year-old Henry Pearson. He has also pleaded not guilty to felony hit-and-run and two other alcohol-related felonies. Gallo faces more than 50 years to life in prison if convicted on all charges.

The jury resumes deliberations Friday after getting the case late Thursday.

Prosecutors allege Gallo, whose blood-alchol level was nearly three times the legal limit, spent hours drinking beers and shots with his stepbrother at three different bars before running a red light and T-boning the other car April 9, 2009, killing three of the four occupants.

Stewart, the driver, and Pearson died instantly. Adenhart died later in surgery just hours after pitching six scoreless innings during his season debut with the Angels.

A fourth passenger, Jon Wilhite, survived but was severely injured when the impact separated his spine from his skull.

Prosecutor Susan Price told jurors during her closing argument that Gallo “carries the entire burden of this crime. Their deaths lie squarely at his feet.”

“This is a man who society and the court and people and friends and family have tried to warn about the dangers of drinking and driving, and his arrogance and his need to party prevented him from learning that lesson,” she said.

Prosecutors decided to charge Gallo with second-degree murder — not the lesser related charge of manslaughter. The jury does not have the option of convicting on manslaughter. If Gallo is acquitted, he would go free because he cannot be tried twice for the same offense.

Prosecutors say they charged the case as a murder because Gallo had a previous DUI conviction, had specific knowledge of the dangers of drinking and driving from his own experience and signed a court form from the earlier case saying he understood he could be charged with murder if he drove drunk again and killed someone.

To win a murder conviction, prosecutors must show Gallo acted with implied malice: intentionally drove drunk, acted with a conscious disregard for human life and knew from his personal experience that he could kill someone.

Price, the prosecutor, addressed the issue with jurors, saying Gallo’s family, previous attorney and his alcohol-treatment counselors all explicitly warned him of the dangers of drunken driving.

“Crashing his car in 2005 should have told him drinking and driving was dangerous,” she said. “What more could society do to educate this man that drinking and driving is dangerous so he doesn’t do it again? What more?”

Goodman, however, said Price was trying to “dumb down” the murder charge and compared the jurors to football line judges when she urged them not to give Price any ground in reaching the higher burden of proof — even if they sympathized with the victims.

“There are gradations of culpability in our society. Not every death is a murder, and it’s the prosecution that has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” Goodman said. “It’s not murder — they chose to charge murder.”

Also Friday, the judge will hear evidence on a seventh count, driving on a suspended license, while the jury deliberates. Gallo previously waived his right to a jury trial on that count and asked that it be separated from the other charges.

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