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Jury rules 'not guilty' in negligent homicide trial involving Muscatine motorcyclists

Jury rules 'not guilty' in negligent homicide trial involving Muscatine motorcyclists

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ESCANABA, Mich. — After five hours of deliberation Friday, a jury found Gerrad Godley not guilty of two counts of negligent homicide in the deaths of two motorcyclists last year.

The verdict came during the third day of Godley’s criminal trial in Delta County Circuit Court. He was accused of negligently causing an accident which resulted in the deaths of David and Karen Awbrey of Muscatine, Iowa, on June 24, 2010, in Ford River.

A dozen friends and family members of the Awbrey’s attended the three-day trial and were present when the verdict was announced Friday. Members of Godley’s family were also there.

Godley was driving a Volkswagen 59 miles per hour on M-35 when he rear-ended an Impala, pushing it into the path of the Awbrey’s southbound motorcycle at 2:15 p.m. on a clear, sunny day. The Impala was slowing down to make a left-hand turn onto County Road 521.

According to an accident reconstruction report, the Volkswagen never braked or veered before colliding with the Impala.

Friday’s court proceeding began with Godley returning to the witness stand. He was questioned by his attorney Thursday afternoon providing emotional testimony about what he remembered after the accident occurred. Godley could not recollect crashing into the Impala.

Prosecuting Attorney Steve Parks began his questioning with references to Godley’s history of high blood pressure and comments to his doctor about almost falling asleep while driving or attending meetings.

Godley said, “I remember not being tired (before the crash). I was alert.” When questioned by his attorney, John Tosto, Godley repeated he did not remember “feeling tired after turning around.”

Godley had gone more than 12 miles on M-35 before he realized he was headed in the wrong direction to get to his destination — the Island Resort & Casino in Harris. He turned around to go back to Escanaba and U.S. 2 and 41. On the way back, the accident occurred on a straight stretch of road, south of the Ford River.

During closing arguments, Parks said Godley’s actions “are consistent with a person who fell asleep at the

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wheel.”

“Clearly the cause of the accident, hands down, is the Volkswagen,” Parks said, excusing the blame on the other parties involved in the accident. He explained Godley’s vehicle rear-ended another car, Godley did not have his vehicle under control, and he did not slow down for conditions on the road.

“Mr. Godley appears to be searching for answers to this tragedy,” Parks said, adding the defendant is not blaming himself but rather looking for answers from his doctor to explain what happened.

In his closing argument, Tosto described his client’s previous testimony as “very, very emotional.” He added, “This was a terrible accident... a tragic accident... There was no intent to harm anyone.”

Tosto questioned the prosecuting attorney’s charges of negligent homicide against his client, calling it “disgraceful.” Tosto also criticized the fact no charges were filed against the driver of the Impala stopped on the road which he considered dangerous to do.

“There’s a possibility my client lost consciousness,” Tosto told the jury, suggesting there would be no negligence involved because of a medical condition.

Tosto argued Godley was unconscious or blacked out because of blood pressure medication taken a couple hours before the accident. A neurologist had said Godley could have suffered a concussion prior to the crash, the lawyer added.

In his rebuttal, Parks told the jury, “It’s true this case does not involve criminal intent. This case involves negligence.”

Prior to the jury going into deliberation at 11:21 a.m. Friday, Judge Stephen Davis instructed the five women and seven men on their duty and on the law behind the case.

Davis explained the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. He told jurors not to let sympathy or prejudice influence their decision. A verdict should be based on the evidence presented — testimony and exhibits — which each juror can weigh as important to the case, he said. Common sense should also play a part in deciding a verdict, he added.

Davis said information which is not considered evidence includes the charges themselves, attorneys’ statements, questions the lawyers ask witnesses, and the court’s instructions to the jurors.

He explained the four elements which the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt on each count are as follows: the defendant was operating a vehicle on June 24, 2010, on M-35 in Ford River Township, Delta County; the defendant was operating his vehicle at an unreasonable speed or in a negligent manner; the operator’s negligence caused injury to each Karen and David Awbrey; and these injuries resulted in each of their deaths.

Davis further explained the jury must determine if there was slight negligence, ordinary negligence, or no negligence. If there was slight negligence or no negligence, the verdict must be “not guilty,” he said. A “guilty” verdict would be considered if there was ordinary negligence meaning the defendant did not take reasonable care under the circumstances, he explained.

Davis said there must be ordinary negligence for a guilty verdict to be reached on a charge of negligent homicide. He clarified that a death does not necessarily mean negligence occurred.

Each count — regarding David’s death and regarding Karen’s death — should also be considered as separate crimes and be given separate verdicts, he told the jurors before they returned to the jury room.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, jlancour@dailypress.net

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