Accident or crime? Casey County teen on trial in traffic death

February 18, 2004|JIM LOGAN

LIBERTY - The fate of a Casey County man who killed two women with his car will be placed in the hands of a jury today.

At its core, the jury's choice is simple: Was it an accident or a crime?

Philip Moore, 18, of Yosemite, is charged with two counts of reckless homicide in the deaths of Nellie Jean Hamilton, 73, and Violet Sims, 67. If convicted, he could receive up to 10 years in prison.

That Moore ran over the women Sept. 9, 2002, on Calvary Creek Road is not in dispute. He admits hitting the women, who were out on their regular early-morning walk, while on his way to Casey County High School. He says he was driving about 45 mph and didn't see them until it was too late.

"This is a tragic accident," said Todd Spalding,Moore's attorney.

But Commonwealth's Attorney Brian Wright asserts that Moore was high on marijuana and an antidepressant and was driving on the wrong side of the road.


Moore, he said, "recklessly caused the death of two ladies," and should be found guilty of two homicides.

Wright did his best to portray Moore as a liar.

In Moore's appearance before a Casey County grand jury, he said his vision was obscured by fog as he neared the women. But state police Detective William Gregory testified there was no fog when he arrived on the scene an hour and a half after the crash.

Others who either lived near the site of the crash or drove by within minutes of it testified the day was warm and clear.

The drug question took up much of Tuesday's session

But it was the question of whether Moore took drugs before the crash that swallowed much of Tuesday's nearly 13-hour session before Casey Circuit Judge James G. Weddle.

Spalding twice sought to suppress testimony about the results of blood and urine tests done after the accident, questioning the reliability and science of the testing.

Jennifer Kendall, a chemist with the Kentucky State Police, testified that Moore's urine tested positive for marijuana and nortriptyline, an antidepressant. The amount of marijuana present, she said, indicated that Moore had ingested it within 24 to 36 hours.

Spalding objected, and the jury was ushered out of the courtroom.

In a lengthy mid-trial hearing on Spalding's motion to suppress the drug reports and any interpretation of their affect on Moore at the time of the crash, Don Nelson, a professor of clinical pharmacology at the University of Cincinnati, offered a painstaking explanation of how drugs affect the body and the significance of their detectable levels in urine.

He said the amount of marijuana in Moore's urine was typical in somebody who had either smoked a single marijuana cigarette within 24 to 36 hours, or in someone who had smoked five to six "joints" daily for months before quitting for several days.

Nelson, who under cross-examination said he receives $1,000-a-day fee from the commonwealth for his testimony, also said that the amount of nortriptyline in Moore's urine was "indicative of somebody who takes it daily" in "therapeutic doses."

Nortriptyline, he testified, intensifies the effects of marijuana.

Eventually, Weddle ruled that Nelson, not Kendall, could testify about the implications of the drug tests.

Nelson later repeated his testimony for the jury.

The issue of whether Moore was under the influence of drugs at the time of the accident was crucial. The former football player had insisted that he had last smoked marijuana 10 days before the crash and had taken no other drugs.

The prosecution asserted that the drug tests prove he was high when he hit Sims and Hamilton.

The defense, however, sought to show that the drug tests were misleading and ultimately irrelevant to the crash.

Gregory, under cross-examination by Spalding, testified that he had made more than 170 arrests for driving under the influence of intoxicants during his time as a trooper on patrol. But the detective conceded that Moore demonstrated no sign of intoxication during their interview at Casey County Hospital's emergency room after the accident.

A small parade of witnesses on both sides testified that Moore was coherent, albeit deeply upset, when they saw him after the crash. None said he or she could smell alcohol or marijuana on Moore.

Both Moore's mother, Brenda Moore of Cincinnati, and grandmother, Delores Mullins, testified that he was sick with a cold the weekend before the crash and was with them from Friday night until Monday morning. Brenda Moore had come down to Liberty to watch her son play football.

Wright, on cross-examination, sought to show that Moore could have found a way to do drugs secretly that weekend, but Mullins and Brenda Moore insisted he did not.

The trial was scheduled to continue today with final arguments and jury deliberations.

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