Prosecutor Says Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Failed to Treat Crash Victim

From The Murfreesboro Postwww.murfreesboropost.com

By: Lisa Marchesoni

Posted: Thursday, September 3, 2009 1:44 pm

A sheriff’s detective disposed of alcohol bottles rather than aiding an 11-year-old girl who died later after a crash with his cruiser, the prosecutor said Thursday.

Former Detective Sgt. Ron Killings is set for trial Oct. 13 in the reckless homicide of Lakeisha White of Hopkinsville, Ky., who died of injuries suffered when she collided with Killings’ on-duty vehicle July 17, 2008 on Bradyville Pike.

Attorney Joe Baugh, a former district attorney, is prosecuting the case. During a pretrial hearing Thursday, Baugh repeatedly said Killings was negligent when he disposed of the bottles instead of treating Lakeisha, who died later that night at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. One of the bottles contained a receipt linked to Killings.

Circuit Court Judge David M. Bragg decided Killings will be tried on the reckless homicide charge Oct. 13 separate from two other charges of making a false statement and tampering with evidence.

Bragg also decided to:

• Use jurors from Rutherford County to determine if an impartial jury could be selected because of extensive pretrial publicity.

• Order Murfreesboro Police Department to release the name of the only eyewitness who told police she saw Lakeisha in the middle of the road before the crash.

Bragg will issue an opinion within a week if the liquor bottles Killings allegedly threw away can be admitted at trial.

During the 2-1/2 hour hearing, attorney Terry Fann, who represents Killings, asked Bragg to separate the three charges to give Killings a fair trial on the reckless homicide because alcohol was not involved.

“The blood-alcohol report…came back from TBI (Tennessee Bureau of Investigation) indicating there was no alcohol in his system,” Fann said.

If the liquor bottles are admitted as evidence, the jury will believe the homicide was an alcohol-related crime, Fann said.

“The alcohol bottles have nothing to do with the reckless homicide,” Fann said.

In his argument, Baugh said jurors needed to hear the whole story. The reckless homicide case covers the recklessness of Killings who disposed of the alcohol rather than treat Lakeisha for her injuries.

Killings was the only person at the scene trained to provide emergency medical treatment and communicate the information to other emergency responders, the prosecutor said.

“Who knows if this child could have survived?” Baugh asked.

Prosecutors should be entitled to show Killings moved the bottles, he said. His actions are the way to determine his state of mind.

Killings concealed evidence rather than rendering aid to the girl, the prosecutor said. The time he spent throwing away the liquor “may have caused the death of a child.”

Fann countered the state didn’t have any witnesses to show Killings failed to aid the girl, causing her death. The autopsy listed cause of death as a collision with a vehicle. Saying Killings failed to aid the girl is “just speculation.”

Baugh argued Killings’ getting rid of the bottles showed he placed a higher priority on getting ride of the evidence than treating the victim.

After hearing both attorneys and reviewing previous cases, Bragg said he would try the reckless homicide case separately.

Regarding statements of witnesses, Fann asked to know the identity of the person who told police she saw the girl in the middle of the road.

Sgt. Sam Campbell, who supervised the investigation before being removed, testified he didn’t have access to the statement in the case file.

Bragg will order the police department to obtain the statement and provide the information to Fann within seven days.

Attorney Ben Parsley, who is also representing Killings, asked for the criminal histories of the state witnesses and any agreements Baugh made with witnesses.

Bragg ruled the defense could obtain the criminal histories. Baugh said he didn’t expect to make any agreements with witnesses.

Parsley asked about expert witnesses. Baugh said he expected only state medical examiner Dr. Bruce Levy as the only expert. Baugh won’t use any experts about the crash since Killings’ car was apparently moved.

Regarding the liquor bottles, Fann asked Bragg to exclude the bottles as evidence in the reckless homicide trial because it would prejudice the jury.

Also, Fann questioned the “chain of custody” of the alcohol bottles turned over to Traffic Officer Mike Luzadder 10 days after the crash, Fann said. Chain of custody requires evidence to be preserved so it isn’t tampered with.

Baugh said if Killings disposed of the bottles, it shows “tangible proof” he failed to take care of the child. His actions are relevant.

A receipt found in the bag with one bottle was linked to Killings, Baugh said.

Fann said the receipt showed the alcohol was purchased two to three days earlier and not relevant in the case. Killings was on duty from 2 p.m. the day of the crash.

Baugh said the alcohol was important to show Killings was reckless by disposing of the alcohol instead of rendering aid to a child who suffered severe injuries that is the crux of the case.

“Those actions were reckless,” Baugh said.

Bragg will decide within one week if the alcohol bottles and photographs of the victim alive will be admitted in the homicide trial.

Regarding pretrial publicity, Fann said it would be difficult to find a juror who hadn’t heard about the case. He suggested obtaining a jury from East Tennessee. Also, bloggers on newspaper Web sites gave preconceived comments without knowing all the facts.

Baugh said many people don’t read a newspaper or pay attention to news.

Bragg said he will start with a Rutherford County jury panel. If a jury cannot be selected, he will continue the trial for a short time and find a jury from another county.

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