An appellate court panel on Tuesday upheld the second-degree murder conviction of a Placentia man for a drug-fueled crash in Laguna Niguel that killed a woman walking with a lost dog.
Adam Harrison Hall, 30, was sentenced in April 2013 to 17 years to life in prison for the Feb. 13, 2011, crash at Moulton Parkway and Nueva Vista Drive that killed Mara Lynnes Steves.
He was also found guilty of forgery of a prescription and two counts of obtaining or possessing drugs secured by a forged prescription, as well as a misdemeanor count of driving under the influence.
Hall’s appellate attorney argued that his trial lawyer was ineffective because he did not try to get the drug counts separated from the murder charge. He also contended in his appeal that there was not enough evidence to prove Hall was the driver who ran a red light and caused the crash.
Fourth District Court of Appeal Justices William Bedsworth, Kathleen O’Leary and Eileen Moore disagreed.
The three-justice panel found that the evidence of Hall having prescriptions forged would have been admitted in the murder trial regardless of whether those specific charges were also filed.
“The forgery evidence showed the degree of Hall’s need for the powerful psychoative drug to which he had a continuing addiction, and thus had a tendency in reason to prove malice in the form of disregarding the danger of using it and driving — a danger of which he had been warned,” the opinion says.
Hall was twice convicted of driving under the influence of drugs and was warned in court that he could face a murder charge if he was responsible for a deadly DUI, the justices noted.
“The case against Hall was much stronger than he gives it credit for in this appeal. In fact, considering all the evidence, the case was remarkably strong,” the opinion states.
Even without an expert’s reconstruction of the crash, witness testimony and other evidence would have sufficed to convict Hall and contradict his argument that another motorist ran the red light, the justices ruled.
Hall’s trial attorney, Deputy Public Defender Richard Cheung, and prosecutor Troy Pino agreed Hall was behind the wheel of a Ford Explorer that collided with another SUV.
The dispute in the trial was over Hall’s claim that he was westbound on Nueva Vista Drive making a left turn when his vehicle was T-boned. Pino argued that the defendant was northbound on Moulton and T-boned another vehicle before careening into Mara Steves.
Hall was speeding faster than 60 mph north on Moulton and ran the red light at Nueva Vista before the 2011 collision, Pino said. A blood test showed he had methamphetamine, Valium and Xanax in his system, the prosecutor said.
Steves, 48, who had been trying to find the owner of a stray Labrador retriever, was slammed into a block wall and suffered fatal injuries. Veterinarians were able to save the dog, Max.