LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - By Holley Nees - email
ANGELINA COUNTY, Texas (KTRE) – An Angelina County jury has handed down two not guilty verdicts in the intoxicated manslaughter trial of a Livingston man. The jury could not reach a verdict in a lesser included offense and District Judge Paul White declared a mistrial.
John Lee Wade, 21, was charged in the deaths of two men in a Hudson crash taking place early Halloween morning of 2008.
On Oct. 31, just one minute after midnight, Wade was headed west on FM 706 at Stephenson Brown Road when his car left the road and hit a tree. The 2009 Dodge Challenger caught fire.
Arturo DeJesus Jr., 19, of Diboll, died at the scene from burns he received. The second passenger, Thomas Martinez, 20, was transported to Memorial Medical Center. He, too, was severely burned and was pronounced dead at 7 a.m.
Wade is a former U.S. Marine from Livingston. DPS troopers say none of them were wearing seatbelts.
"We're definitely happy, you know, we'd love for it to be over, but it's not, so but the big charges, the second degree charges are gone, so that's a victory for sure," said Defense Attorney Ryan Deaton.
Deaton said the state could retry the lesser included offense of criminally negligent homicide since the jury could not reach a verdict.
Criminally negligent homicide is a state jail felony, punishable by six months to two years behind bars.
Monday afternoon Angelina County District Judge Paul White charged the jury. The state had dropped one count of intoxicated manslaughter and one count of manslaughter. The jury was instructed to deliberate a verdict on count two of intoxicated manslaughter and count three of manslaughter, which can also be downgraded to the lesser included offense of criminally negligent homicide.
In closing arguments, Angelina County Assistant District Attorney Tony Latino discussed the meaning of intoxication manslaughter. He told jurors intoxication means not having the normal use of one's mental and physical faculties because of alcohol. Latino pointed out Wade's blood alcohol level, during the night in question was at .05.
The state told jurors they believe the evidence proves Wade had lost the normal use of his mental and physical faculties.
Latino pointed out Wade traveled that specific road several times without any problem, until he had consumed alcohol.
The state said unreasonable speed and failing to keep a proper lookout contributed to the fatal accident.
Latino went on to explain manslaughter to the jury. He then described how the lesser included offense, criminally negligent homicide, is defined as a gross deviation from what a person of ordinary prudent care would take.
Latino referred back to questions he had asked Wade when he was on the stand earlier in the trial. Latino told the jury he thinks manslaughter is what the defendant deserves, but if the jury doesn't feel the same, they have the opportunity to find him guilty of criminally negligent homicide.
Deaton, in closing arguments, stood before the jury and said it was all an accident.
"It was a terrible, terrible tragedy, but it was nothing more than an accident…My client has not committed any criminal offense here," said Deaton. "The fact that two people died, and I'm very sorry that happened, does not make it a criminal offense."
He told jurors the state had not proven every element, beyond a reasonable doubt, to prove his client committed the alleged crime.
Deaton said all the state can rely on at this point is proving Wade lost the normal use of his mental or physical faculties.
Deaton said doctors and nurses that came in contact with Wade during the night in question said he was alert.
"They brought you zero evidence that he lost his normal faculties," said Deaton claiming the state failed to prove intoxication manslaughter.
The defense said going 65 miles per hour down a road in a new car is not a gross deviation, especially for a 19-year-old.
"Just the speed alone does not make him reckless," said Deaton. "They [Martinez and DeJesus] wanted him to go, they wanted him to drive, they wanted him to get out on the road."
Deaton went on to tell jurors, "He was trying to do the right thing, not the wrong thing…He has been in the military trying to protect our country, and this is the guy they want to felonize?"
"Arturo and Thomas wanted him to go out on the highway that night, they wanted him to drive faster," said Deaton. "Just driving fast and coming up on a curve that you were unaware of is not reckless, it is not gross deviation."
Lastly, he addressed criminally negligent homicide. The defense reiterated that "speeding again is not a gross deviation." He said the state cannot prove their case on any of the counts beyond a reasonable doubt.
"He just missed the curve…as it sounds like many, many people have done before. That's an accident, that's like running a stop sign and accidentally killing somebody. It happens every day, every day in our society," Deaton said.
"What are we going to achieve by felonizing this young man?" Deaton held up pictures of the victims and asked the jury if they thought his client had been punished enough.
"You think he doesn't live with the guilt every single day knowing that his negligence caused that?" asked Deaton. "He was injured, not just little injuries, big injuries."
Deaton pleaded with the jury to do the right thing and not convict his client.
"Let him do something good with his life because convicting him is not going to do anything but ruin a third life," said Deaton.
"He just had a little bit too much to drink and as a result of that, he made some poor choices," Latino rebutted.
"Everybody at the party was drinking…Mr. Martinez and Mr. DeJesus didn't have to lose their lives…and the part that they played in their demise, was just hey we wanted to go ride in your new car," explained Latino.
He told jurors there's a reason we have a drinking age.
"Two deaths and Mr. Wade was seriously injured, he almost didn't make it," said Latino. "I think we've proven to you that he lost his mental judgment… we've proven to you the manslaughter aspect of the case because he was reckless in what he was doing."
"Dr. Brown testified that your reaction time slows at .04," and Latino pointed out again that Wade's blood alcohol level was at .05.
"All of it could've been avoided. Don't drink and drive," Latino closed.