ST. GEORGE – A motion to delay a trial date in a vehicle homicide case involving alleged texting, so the defense could have a chance to gather and analyze additional evidence, was denied Wednesday. The case stems from the March 2013 auto-pedestrian crash that claimed the life of 56-year-old David Henson and severely injured his wife.
Edward Flint filed a motion in September requesting the court continue, or push out, the upcoming October jury trial date for his client, Carla Lynn Brennan, 51, of St. George. Brennan has been charged with second-degree felony automobile homicide involving a hand-held communications device. The case is set for a week-long trial from Oct. 5-10.
Brennan pleaded not guilty on March 19.
The motion included a request for the Washington County Attorney’s Office to turn over cell tower data that Flint said was “vital” to Brennan’s defense. Cell phones involved in the incident were also requested, as they would be analyzed by a cell tower expert acquired by the defense. Flint said their expert would be analyzing Brennan’s phone and the others to see whether or not she was sending data via texting during the accident.
Deputy Washington County Attorney Brian Filter said the state no longer had the requested phones in its possession, nor did it have the sought-after cell tower data. There may have been some cell tower data acquired as evidence early on, Filter said, but everything the state had in relation to evidence has been shared with the defense.
Flint continued to argue the state should hand over all evidence it has and is aware of that may be beneficial to his client. Fifth District Judge Michael Westfall agreed that was the state’s responsibility, but it ended there.
“I don’t think they have the responsibility to go out and dig for information that’ll help your client,” Westfall said.
However, Westfall also said he would not allow any evidence to be presented to a jury by the state that hadn’t been shared with the defense.
Flint said another point of his motion was not only to allow time for the cell tower expert to analyze requested data, but also to acquire an accident reconstructionist who could examine details related to the incident and offer expert testimony in that regard. He noted the state already had an accident reconstructionist work on the original incident.
The judge asked about the state’s accident reconstructionist and Filter said it was a police officer who would only give his observations on what he had found, and not offer opinion as a designated expert would.
Westfall appeared skeptical and said he wouldn’t allow the state’s reconstructionist witness to testify if he felt the witness ended up testifying as an expert. It was a “back door” he said he wouldn’t allow.
After hearing the arguments, Westfall denied the motion to continue the trial date, and noted the case was already a year-and-a-half old.
“People start to forget,” Westfall said. “I don’t want to put the state in a position of witnesses not remembering what happened.”
Flint asked if there would be a final status conference on the case, to which Westfall confirmed one was set for Oct. 1 at 2 p.m. Flint indicated he may file additional motions at that point. Westfall said he was anticipating receiving motions requesting the potential limiting of evidence during the trial.
Discussion was then had over how to conduct jury selection. Westfall said the nature and length of the trial, along with the media attention Brennan’s case has gained, may be an issue.
In order to select a viable jury, it was agreed that prospective jurors would likely be given a questionnaire to fill out. Westfall also said he would have around 70-90 people called in for jury duty in order to having a wider pool to select from as well.
Brennan is accused of allegedly texting on her cell phone while not paying attention to her driving on Dixie Drive in St. George on March 4, 2013. Her vehicle reportedly rear-ended the vehicle in front of her, which caused it to swerve to the side and run onto the sidewalk and hit David and Leslee Henson. David was killed while Leslee was left with severe injuries from which she has since recovered.
In the wake of the tragic event, the Henson family started an anti-texting initiative that ultimately went statewide and led to the passage of a strict anti-texting/distracted driving law that took effect earlier this year.
- Tighter restrictions on distracted driving go into effect at midnight
- Police use photos of drivers as part of anti-texting campaign
- St. George woman pleads not guilty to auto homicide
- City launches massive campaign against distracted driving
- Community Action Team public meeting on distracted driving, child safety
- First of many no-texting signs unveiled in St. George
- Victim’s family brings ‘No Texting’ traffic signs to St. George
- Woman arrested in connection with fatal auto-pedestrian accident
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