Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Murder + Gross vehicular manslaughter sought in California DUI death / alleged car race case

California DUI criminal defense attorneys at are often asked how murder could be charged in a DUI case. Here's an example.

A man faces a charge of first-degree murder for his alleged role in the car race on State Route 299 that resulted in an Oct. 6 crash that claimed the life of 9-year-old Nicole Quigley.

The man, Mr. Whitmill, pleaded not guilty to the murder charge at his arraignment Tuesday, and also entered not guilty pleas to charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence causing injury, vehicular manslaughter and engaging in a speed contest.

The man Whitmill was allegedly racing with, Anthony Marques Flores, also appeared in court Tuesday and pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicular manslaughter, engaging in a speed contest and leaving the scene of an accident that caused serious injury.

Whitmill remains held on $1 million bail, while Flores remains held on $250,000 bail.

Public Defender Laura Cutler was assigned to represent Whitmill and Deputy Conflict Council Kaleb Cockrum was assigned to defend Flores, after both told the court they could not afford an attorney.

Whitmill was allegedly driving a 2004 Pontiac Sunfire when he and Flores, who was driving a now infamous 1998 Mustang convertible, allegedly began racing, reportedly reaching speeds of more than 90 mph while barreling down State Route 299.

During the alleged race, Whitmill's Sunfire reportedly clipped a Chevrolet Tahoe that was driving the same direction, and carrying Debra Quigley, her twin daughters and one of their friends. Assistant District Attorney Wes Keat said in an e-mail to the Times-Standard that he thinks the evidence will show that Whitmill tried to pass between the Mustang and the Tahoe at a high rate of speed and ended up colliding with them both. The impact of the collision caused both the Sunfire and the Tahoe to veer from the road and down an embankment.

The Tahoe came to rest after slamming into a utility pole at an unknown rate of speed. Nine-year-old Nicole Quigley reportedly died instantly from the impact of the collision, and Debra Quigley reportedly suffered injuries to her torso and neck and was later flown to Rogue Valley Medical Center in Medford, Ore., for treatment.

Nicole Quigley's twin sister and the other passenger reportedly suffered minor injuries and walked away from the wreckage.

The accident reportedly left the Sunfire resting on its roof, and its passenger, 40-year-old Cheri Marcelli, of Willow Creek, with major injuries. She has since been released from Mad River Community Hospital. Whitmill reportedly escaped the crash uninjured, but was taken into custody at the scene on a parole hold.

Flores reportedly fled the scene of the accident, spawning a days-long search for him and his car, which he reportedly spray painted black after the accident. Flores was arrested Oct. 9, after local law enforcement received dozens of tips about the whereabouts of silver Mustangs all over the county. Flores' car was recovered a couple of days later.

While elements of malice and planning are generally required for a first-degree murder charge, University of California Hastings School of Law professor David Levine said those elements aren't necessary for this charge, as Whitmill is alleged to have committed a separate felony, driving under the influence, that also led to Nicole Quigley's death.

It's a rule of criminal law that if you commit 'felony A,' and in the course of committing 'felony A' a death takes place, even if you didn't intend for that death to take place, you can be charged with first-degree murder. The commission of this separate felony DUI is what enables the prosecutor to charge murder. And, of course, that leaves tremendous leverage for a plea bargain. It's certainly legitimate (for the prosecutor) to charge up like that, according to California DUI criminal defense lawyers.

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