A woman convicted of running over and killing a Pacific Grove man as he picked up his son from school has failed in her bid for a new trial.
The 6th District Court of Appeal affirmed the gross vehicular manslaughter conviction of Deborah King, saying errors posed by testimony during her trial and evidence discovered after her conviction would not likely have changed the verdict.
King, a former correctional officer, was under the influence of prescription medications when she killed Joel Woods, 35, outside Pacific Grove Middle School on Sept. 2, 2008. Though the jury acquitted her of second-degree murder, she is serving the same 15-to-life prison sentence a murder conviction would have brought because she had five prior drunken-driving convictions.
King, 55, appealed the conviction on numerous grounds that centered on testimony and work performed by state Justice Department toxicologist Ron Kitagawa, who tested King's blood after the fatal accident.
Kitagawa testified the tests were positive for hydrocodone, morphine, Xanax, Ambien, trazadone and an anti-depressant. In violation of pre-trial court orders, he testified he found traces of marijuana, though the test showed only an inactive metabolite of the drug.
After an objection by defense attorney Heather Rogers, Judge Russell Scott informed the jury there was no active THC in King's blood and to disregard the testimony. But he declined Rogers' motion for a new trial, ruling the marijuana testimony would not affect the outcome of the trial.
Rogers renewed her motion for a new trial when she learned five days after the conviction that Kitagawa was under investigation by the Department of Justice for mistakes and sloppy work at the time of his testimony.
Again Scott denied the motion, saying Kitagawa's work on King's case was verified and "there just isn't any question from the evidence that was presented that the jury reached the right decision in this case."
The three-judge appellate panel agreed Scott erred by judging the sufficiency of the evidence at trial, rather than the probability the new evidence would have changed the outcome. However, even using the correct standard, the panel said, the judge's and the jury's decisions would have likely been the same.
"Finally, this case did not turn on the results of Kitagawa's toxicology report," Justice Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian wrote in her Jan. 17 opinion. "The jury had to consider all of the evidence to make that decision, including the observations of the defendant before and after the accident, the field sobriety tests, the testimony of the defendant's doctor and the defendant's admissions to taking numerous medications."
At least two witnesses testified about King's reckless driving before she slammed into Woods on Forest Avenue, killing him as his 12-year-old son looked on. Her son and ex-husband testified they had warned her dozens of times about the dangers of driving while intoxicated.
Virginia Hennessey can be reached at 753-6751 or firstname.lastname@example.org.