A state appeals court panel Thursday rejected a convicted murderer’s claim that prosecutors presented insufficient evidence that a woman had been killed in a high-speed DUI crash in which he was involved in Pomona about 3 1/2 years ago.
The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that the prosecution in Michael Daniel Gardner’s trial “presented substantial evidence from which the jury could reasonably infer” that Marissa Leah Vasquez had died and that the evidence established that the defendant’s conduct was a “substantial factor contributing to Vasquez’s death.”
The appellate court panel noted that the prosecution relied on “contemporaneous recordings” from police officers at the scene of the May 7, 2015, crash near West Arrow Highway and Mariposa Street and did not present testimony from paramedics who went to the scene or the pathologist who conducted the autopsy or admit the 32-year-old Pomona woman’s death certificate into evidence during Gardner’s trial.
But jurors heard evidence that the Mercedes-Benz driven by Gardner was traveling at 127 miles per hour — in a 45 mph zone — when it collided with Vasquez’s Honda, and the panel noted that the force of the collision caused the victim’s car to shear off a wooden power pole and roll for 30 feet before coming to rest on its roof.
“Based on the recordings capturing police confirming the nature of the collision, as well as the testimony regarding the collision’s overwhelming and crushing force, we conclude that the prosecution presented substantial evidence from which the jury could reasonably infer that Vasquez did not survive the collision,” the appellate ruling says. “… To set aside the jury’s verdict under the circumstances present in this case would allow Gardner to treat the court proceeding like a game and result in a miscarriage of justice.”
The justices also rejected Gardner’s contention that the trial court erred by refusing to suppress evidence from a blood draw done without a warrant. The panel found that substantial evidence supported the trial court’s finding that Gardner freely and voluntarily consented to the blood draw.
Gardner — who is serving an 18-year-to-life term in state prison — was convicted last year of second-degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving or taking a vehicle without consent, fleeing a pursuing police officer causing serious bodily injury and driving with a license that was suspended or revoked due to a prior DUI conviction.
Prosecutors said Gardner took the Mercedes from a neighbor without his permission, and that he had a 0.27 percent blood alcohol content — more than three times the amount at which a motorist is considered legally impaired — at the time.
A police officer tried to pull Gardner over, but was unable to keep up with the vehicle, prosecutors said. He was arrested after running from the scene of the crash.
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