I guess I don't know what to say...
High court reverses ruling in traffic death case
Justin D. Anderson
Daily Mail Staff
Thursday February 22, 2007
State Supreme Court justices have ruled that merely not paying attention to the road wasn't enough to convict a woman of double negligent homicide.
Marjorie Virginia Green, 71, slammed into the back of a vehicle on U.S. 50 in Hampshire County on a Sunday morning two years ago, killing two people.
Rhonda Dante and her 17-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn, were stopped in the eastbound lane of the road waiting for a caravan of about 30 motorcyclists coming the other way to pass before they turned left into a church parking lot.
Green, who had no prior criminal record, was on her way to a picnic in Maryland, court records state.
As she approached Dante's vehicle, Green was watching the motorcyclists, who were riding in memory of a fellow motorcyclist who had been killed, according to court records.
Going about 59 mph, Green crashed into the back of Dante's vehicle, forcing it into the westbound lane. Kaitlyn and one of the motorcyclists, Janeann Stehle, 57, were both killed as a result of the accident. Rhonda Dante was severely injured.
A Hampshire grand jury indicted Green on two misdemeanor counts of negligent homicide in January 2005. She was later convicted and sentenced to two years in the Potomac Highlands Regional Jail, where she remains.
At trial in August, State Trooper Geoffrey Pesko testified that there was no evidence that Green had tried to stop before colliding with Dante's car.
One witness described the accident as an "explosion," sending debris 30 feet in the air.
Green called her own accident re-constructionist, who testified that Green did hit her brakes when she was 397 feet behind Dante's vehicle and noticed her brake lights.
The state, in arguing against the appeal, disagreed.
"She simply drove, full speed, into the rear of Ms. Dante's car," their reply stated.
Green didn't testify at trial, although her statement to police was admitted into evidence.
She said she'd followed Dante all the way from Augusta and Dante kept hitting her brakes. Green said she recalled thinking she'd be glad when she could get around Dante.
When she noticed Dante had stopped in the road, Green recalled: "I knew I couldn't get past her on the left and I knew I couldn't get by her on the right so I hit her in the butt and as far as I could see in the other lane it was nothing but motorcycles."
In reviewing the appeal, justices cited case law that determined mere inattentiveness to the road didn't rise to the occasion of reckless disregard, an element in proving negligent homicide.
Justice Joseph Albright, in delivering the opinion of the court, said the court was "mindful that the result of the collision was disastrous, capable of giving rise to fully understandable outrage in a community properly grieving the resulting deaths.
"However, our inquiry here must focus on the character of (Green's) acts and omissions which produced these horrible results."
A year after her conviction, Green was granted post-conviction bail of $10,000. But she couldn't post it because she'd previously lost her house in the civil lawsuit that arose from the accident.
Contact writer Justin D. Anderson at 348-4843.