Attorney for Heather Howell says full facts of road-rage case need airing

  • 7/22/2012: B2:
    7/21/2012: B1:
    PC: Heather Anne Howell appears in Sonoma County Superior Court, Tuesday July 17, 2012 to face possible homicide charges in the road rage death of Jesse Garcia in Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2012

The prosecution of a Santa Rosa woman in a fatal road-rage case is like a Hollywood movie in which parts that don't fit the story have been cut out, a defense lawyer said Friday.

The cinematic comparison came in closing arguments in the trial of Heather Anne Howell, 29. She's charged with second-degree murder, reckless driving and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in the July 2012 crash that killed Jesse Garcia, 56, also of Santa Rosa.

Her attorney, Steve Spiegelman, accused prosecutors of going for "excitement" and exploiting grisly autopsy photos while relying on inaccurate speed estimates and contaminated blood samples to make their case.

He said they didn't bother to call the one witness who saw the cars seconds before they crashed because her version of events didn't match theirs, he said.

"Anything that varies from the movie ... we don't know what to do with that," Spiegelman told the panel. "It was tunnel vision, right from the beginning."

But Spiegelman didn't dispute the central fact in the case — that Howell rear-ended Garcia's Triumph sports car, which flipped and burned with Garcia trapped inside.

And Deputy District Attorney Anne Masterson offered a slew of witnesses, police statements and crash reconstruction drawings to back up the charges.

Masterson told jurors there are two reasons why Howell's conduct amounted to murder. Howell, who had a 2006 drunken driving conviction, had a blood-alcohol level of .11 percent — well over the legal limit of .08 percent.

Under the law, anyone with a prior DUI who kills someone while they are driving under the influence can be charged with murder.

Also, under an implied malice theory in which Howell acted recklessly without regard for human life, she could be charged with murder, Masterson said.

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