DWI death successfully prosecuted as murder in NY

by Last Night in Little Rock

The NY Times reports tonight that the closely watched Long Island case of the DWI death of 7 year old wedding flower girl Katie Flynn prosecuted as second degree murder for "depraved indifference" for the accused driving on the wrong side of the road at three times the legal limit resulted in a guilty verdict after a five week trial.

Martin R. Heidgen, of Valley Stream, NY, was found guilty on Tuesday after five days of deliberation, with the jurors having twice reported being deadlocked. Jurors wept as the verdict was read.

The case became a cause celebre for the D.A.'s election and advocates of stronger DWI prosecutors.  It "is one of only a few murder convictions won in fatal drunken driving cases anywhere."

Heidgen faces 25 to life.

The murder charge brought against Mr. Heidgen, murder in the second degree by depraved indifference, carries the same penalties as intentional murder -- a minimum of 15 years and a maximum of 25 years to life -- and has been the subject of several appellate court decisions in the last two years. Though the case law is still evolving, the drift of the appellate rulings has been toward increasing the burden of proof for a sustainable conviction.

Whereas "depraved indifference" was previously considered a self-evident set of circumstances, it is now understood as a state of mind that must be established with evidence. In his instructions to the jury in this case, Acting Justice Alan R. Honorof of State Supreme Court described that state of mind as one in which a person "engages in conduct which creates a grave and unjustifiable risk that another person's death will occur, and when he or she is aware of and consciously disregards that risk."

The video of the crash, taken by the limosine's video, has been on CNN.com in the past two weeks after it was introduced at trial.

Does this signal a new willingness of prosecutors to try more aggravated these cases as second murder rather than manslaughter?  Or is it an aberration. It remains to be seen.

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    Re: DWI death successfully prosecuted (none / 0) (#1)
    by HeadScratcher on Wed Oct 18, 2006 at 10:39:28 AM EST
    I'm really sorry this person is being prosecuted this way. They shouldn't have driven drunk and caused murder.

    I have no problem with the verdict; if you're driving while impaired and you kill someone, it is murder.  How else should it be considered?

    And from the article cited, this isn't a borderline case where the defendant had one or two drinks, and his reflexes slipped just a bit - he was three times over the legal limit, and drove for several miles in the wrong lane before the accident.  

    The defendant just apparently decided that it wasn't worth the trouble to call a taxi or call home for a ride, that the lives of two other people were worth less to him than a few dollars cab fare.  Prison is a good place for people who think that way, as far as I'm concerned.

    Also, I have to think that DWI (and accidents/deaths resulting from it) is one crime where really strict enforcement and very harsh sentences might actually be effective as a deterrent.

    Re: DWI death successfully prosecuted as murder in (none / 0) (#3)
    by outer space on Wed Oct 18, 2006 at 12:00:23 PM EST
    We have a sick culture where drinking and driving is encouraged.  If people want to get drunk they should do it in thier home.  Drinking establishments need to be HEAVILY regulated or the DWIs will never end.  Your loved ones will continue to be killed on the road, and possibly responsible for the deaths of others, if our permissive drinking culture does not change.

    Prosecution and enforcement is already very tough, there just aren't any more gains to make from this angle.  What is left to increase enforcement and punishment, roadside executions?

    Re: DWI death successfully prosecuted as murder (none / 0) (#4)
    by Angrybat on Wed Oct 18, 2006 at 03:28:29 PM EST
    In California, DUIs have been prosecuted as second degree murders on the basis of implied malice for years and years.  (See, e.g., People v. Watson (1981) 30 Cal.3d 290, 296-299.)  I guess because I live and work here, and I'm used to it, I never thought of it as an unusual or groundbreaking thing, like this article suggests.

    So the statement in the article "It is one of only a few murder convictions won in fatal drunken driving cases anywhere" is not true, unless I'm missing something here.

    Re: DWI death successfully prosecuted as murder (none / 0) (#5)
    by scribe on Wed Oct 18, 2006 at 03:54:43 PM EST
    Court observers and attorneys in NY think this verdict has a good chance of being reversed on appeal.  

    The jury deliberations appear to have been quite intense.  One of the jurors recounted in the article linked above on how the deliberations almost devolved to physical violence on a number of occasions.

    Re: DWI death (none / 0) (#6)
    by kdog on Wed Oct 18, 2006 at 03:55:10 PM EST
    I think sending this 25 year old to jail for life is a bit of overkill.  10-12 years for manslaughter is sufficient punishment, and gives him a chance to redeem himself when he gets out at in 10-12.  Think of the guilt he will carry forever...that's plenty punishment too.

    12 years or life...the poor little girl who was killed is still dead and can't be brought back.  I don't see this sentence deterring any drunk-driving either.  When people go to drive while intoxicated, the thought of this verdict ain't gonna magically pop in their heads.    

    The guy deserves to pay for his crime...but a life sentence is crazy.

    Re: DWI death (none / 0) (#7)
    by Patrick on Wed Oct 18, 2006 at 06:11:54 PM EST

      If I'm reading the article right, that's about what he'll get...15 years, if it's like Cali he's out in 12.  The potential is there for a life sentence, but that would mean he has a significant criminal past.  Either way, I would tend to agree that an insignificant criminal past should be about 10-15 years.