By Patsy Brumfield/Daily Journal
GREENVILLE – Wendell Blount of Calhoun County faces up to 33 years in prison after his conviction Friday in the death of Dutch cyclist Esther Hageman.
“Relieved,” said Jayne Buttross of Jackson in reaction to the verdict.
In the spring of 2009, Buttross’ family awaited Hageman’s arrival from her ride down the Natchez Trace Parkway, her fourth visit to the U.S. She was killed when Blount’s SUV struck her near Houston.
Blount, 58, went on trial Monday on two counts associated with her death on April 22, 2009.
In written statements and in trial testimony, Blount admitted he saw a cyclist in the distance as he traveled from Tupelo south into Chickasaw County on his way home from a business meeting that day.
But, he said, he checked his vehicle’s mirrors and then, suddenly, the dark-blue SUV struck Hageman from behind, killing her.
The case was in federal court because the Trace is federal property.
The 12-member jury began deliberations about 10:30 a.m., went to lunch at 11:30 and resumed its work about 12:45 p.m. At one point, they sent two notes to District Judge W. Allen Pepper Jr. asking about two jury instructions.
But by 2:55, the judge’s deputy announced a verdict had been reached.
Blount sat quietly with his attorneys, David Hill and David Minyard of Oxford, as the verdict was read – guilty on both counts.
His indictment accused him of driving while impaired on morphine, and with killing Hageman while DUI.
At Friday’s close of court, Hill was advised by Pepper to renew a Thursday motion he made, claiming his client’s indictment should be dismissed because, the attorney said, it charges Blount with virtually the same crime twice, and now he faces punishment twice – double jeopardy.
Before he is scheduled for sentencing in a few months, Blount remains on house detention on his $10,000 bond, with the stipulation that he not drive.
According to Buttross, their family first became acquainted with Hageman, a journalist from the Netherlands, when a niece lived with her on a Rotary scholarship a decade ago.
When Hageman was killed, she was on vacation, cycling down the Trace to Jackson. There she planned to catch the train for New Orleans, where the niece and Buttross’ sister lived.
“She was a wonderful person,” Buttross said, wiping tears from her eyes after the verdict.
Friday morning, prosecutor Robert Mims and Hill made closing arguments to the jury.
Hageman’s twisted bicycle leaned against the evidence table in front of the jury.
Mims showed the jury a photograph of Hageman as she lay dead on the Trace pavement in a pool of blood.
“The best evidence of his impairment is the way this accident occurred,” Mims said. “He hits her and keeps on going for 680 feet.”
Hill sought to convince the jury that Blount was not impaired, and that numerous interviews with law enforcement should have yielded his arrest after the accident, if they suspected he was high or drunk.
His client, a chronic pain sufferer, cannot function without morphine, Hill said, but it’s not because he’s addicted.
About testimony from law enforcement officials who spoke with Blount after the accident, Hill said, “No cop is going to sit and talk to somebody on the side of the road, think he’s impaired and not do something.”
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from the Blount trial, read Patsy’s blog, From the Front Row, on NEMS360.com.