By Errol Castens
Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
OXFORD – Attorneys are expected to present closing arguments this morning in the aggravated DUI trial of Dustin Dill after both the prosecution and defense rested Wednesday.
Prosecutors rested their case after Woo testified Wednesday morning, and all three defense witnesses completed their testimony by the end of the day. The jury could begin deliberations as early as today.
Wednesday's testimony included a Ridgeland couple whom Dustin Dill passed just before his car fatally struck pedestrian Amie Ewing. The couple testified Wednesday that Dill could not have prevented the crash.
“I'm just glad I wasn't in that lane,” said Russell McCarty, who said he was in the right-hand, westbound lane of Highway 6 when Dill passed him. “I could have hit her as easy as he did.”
“I think it was unavoidable,” Catherine McCarty added during her testimony. “It could easily have been us in that lane, and the same thing would have happened to us.”
Dill, a former University of Mississippi student from Orlando, Fla., is on trial this week in Lafayette County on charges stemming from the Sept. 4, 2004, tragedy. While Dill's attorneys do not contest his 0.12 percent blood-alcohol level that night, a conviction on the aggravated DUI charge requires prosecutors to prove that Dill was additionally negligent when he hit Ewing. An Ole Miss pharmacy student, Ewing was crossing Highway 6 with her friend Edward Woo to return to their car during the Ole Miss-Memphis football game.
Attorneys on both sides have built cases on the facts and the unknowns about what happened on the roadway, which was lined with parked cars whose occupants were attending the Ole Miss-Memphis football game. Prosecutors have maintained that Dill was negligent by not hitting his brakes, swerving or otherwise trying to avoid hitting Ewing.
They also asserted that excess speed was a factor. While prosecution witnesses testified Dill estimated his speed at the time of impact as high as 65 miles per hour, lead defense attorney Steve Farese emphasized no one, including the defendant, really knows how fast Dill was traveling.
Lanny Rhoades, an engineer who has practiced accident reconstruction for 23 years, gave detailed explanations Wednesday of the damage to Dill's Honda Accord and the Oldsmobile Achieva that Ewing hit next, along with summaries of the injuries Ewing sustained. Given those factors, he said Dill's speed was “certainly not above 50.”
Rhoades testified that the curve in the road, darkness and other complicating factors made the collision “unavoidable.”
“A person who had consumed no alcohol would not have had sufficient time to respond,” he said.
On cross-examination, District Attorney Ben Creekmore questioned the accuracy of Rhoades' conclusions by asking about the effects of Dill's alcohol level.
“Will it slow the appreciation of the danger as well as the reaction?” Creekmore asked.
“The answer is that some people are unaffected at 0.12 (percent),” Rhoades said. His response contrasted with the testimony of forensic toxicologist Shan Hales, who had asserted Tuesday that a 0.04 blood-alcohol content was impairing in all individuals.
“I don't believe it was a case of alcohol impairment at all,” Rhoades said. “It was a matter of insufficient time to react.”
Steve Farese said witnesses on both sides had supported his case. “They (prosecutors) have not been able to prove he failed to keep a proper lookout, that he failed to yield to a pedestrian, that he was speeding.”
Assistant District Attorney T. R. Trout rebutted: “The defendant's admissions more than make up a case.”
Contact Oxford bureau reporter Errol Castens at 281-1069 or firstname.lastname@example.org