Jurors split Thursday over whether to convict a Santa Rosa woman of second-degree murder in a road-rage death that occurred as she chased her boyfriend, drunk, through traffic, killing another motorist.
But the panel found Heather Anne Howell, 30, guilty of two other charges — reckless driving with great bodily injury and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated — setting her up for a possible 10-year prison term.
The verdicts came after jurors were directed twice by Judge Robert LaForge to continue deliberations on the murder charge in hopes they would reach a unanimous decision.
But the panel remained deadlocked 9-3 in favor of conviction, and LaForge finally declared a mistrial.
Prosecutors still could seek to retry Howell on the second-degree murder charge, which carries a 15-to-life prison sentence.
Howell was on trial for the July 2012 death of Jesse Garcia, 56, of Santa Rosa. Prosecutors said Howell struck his Triumph sports car on Hall Road while she was engaged in a high-speed pursuit of her boyfriend, who was riding his motorcycle.
Investigators said Howell was driving around other cars to catch up with the motorcycle when she sideswiped a Lexus and then rear-ended the TR-6 convertible, causing it to spin, roll and burst into flames, with Garcia inside.
Toxicology reports showed Howell had a .11 percent blood-alcohol level and had cocaine and marijuana in her system.
She was charged with murder under two separate theories, including that she knew drunken driving was dangerous but did it anyway — despite a 2006 drunken-driving conviction that included a judge's warning that she could be charged with murder if she ever drove drunk again and caused a fatality.
Two jurors who agreed to be interviewed said the jury was about equally divided on all three charges when deliberations began Monday but quickly reached consensus on two of the three counts against Howell.
But three of the 12 jurors simply couldn't find justification in the evidence for the malice necessary to convict her on the second-degree murder charge, they said.
"That's what we spent all the time on," said one juror, a Petaluma school teacher who gave his name only as Bill.
He and juror Vicki Ransbottom said jurors dismissed defense efforts to raise doubts about Howell's intoxication or even whether it was she who struck Garcia's car.
"The issue was her mental state," Ransbottom said.
Howell wept as LaForge polled jurors on the result of their deliberations, but it was unclear whether her tears revealed relief over the murder charge or grief about the other convictions. Her father and two other family members who attended court left before they could be interviewed.
Deputy District Attorney Anne Masterson said she would be discussing the case with District Attorney Jill Ravitch, who would decide whether to retry Howell on the murder charge. A hearing on the matter is Monday.
Without it, Howell faces a maximum term of 10 years on the charge of reckless driving causing great bodily injury with a prior drunken driving conviction, and up to five years — likely served concurrently — for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
(You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or email@example.com.)