Manslaughter conviction upheld

By The Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi man’s conviction in the death of Dutch cyclist Esther Hageman on the Natchez Trace Parkway has been upheld by a federal appeals court panel.

In 2010, Wendell G. Blount was sentenced to 10 years in prison for vehicular manslaughter in the 2009 death of Hageman.

Federal prosecutors said Blount was under the influence of prescription morphine when his SUV struck Hageman on April 22, 2009, on the Natchez Trace Parkway near Houston, Miss. Hageman, of Leiden, Netherlands, was a veteran journalist for one of the Netherlands’ major newspapers, Trouw.

The Natchez Trace is part of the National Parks system so Hageman’s death was prosecuted in federal court.

Blount was convicted of manslaughter in April 2010, but authorities said he fled house arrest to avoid sentencing. He was captured in October 2010 in Baton Rouge, La. Legal wrangling in the case added more delays to the sentencing, which ultimately took place in October 2011.

On Friday, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans rejected Blount’s argument that he was denied a fair trial when the trial judge barred testimony from witnesses who would have testified they saw Hageman 30 minutes before the accident riding in the middle of the road and failing to get out of the way as vehicles passed.

Blount said the testimony could have influenced the jury’s decision about whether he acted negligently or recklessly.

The three-judge panel said the witnesses’ testimony about Hageman’s conduct at a time and place relatively remote from the accident scene would not help the jury determine what she was doing when she struck by Blount.