Jury deliberating in triple-fatal hit-and-run case

6:45 PM, Apr 16, 2013   |    comments
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Update 6:42 p.m.

The jury in the Curtis Harper trial will meet again Wednesday morning at 9:00 a.m. to continue deliberations.

About 5:00 p.m. Tuesday, the group of seven women and five men told Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz that they will need more time to decide the fate of the Middle Tennessee man.

Harper faces 10 charges: three counts of vehicular homicide, three counts of vehicular homicide because of intoxication, tampering with evidence, reckless endangerment, leaving the scene of an accident, and DUI.

Update 1:39 p.m.

The fate of a middle Tennessee man accused of driving drunk and killed three people now rest in the hands of the jury.

Curtis Scott Harper is accused of striking and killing Nelson Soto, Sr., Chasity Thornell, and her unborn child with his SUV and then driving off last May on Washington Pike.

Now the jury must deliberate over 10 of the 11 charges presented by the prosecution. Harper faces the following charges: three counts of vehicular homicide, three counts of vehicular homicide because of intoxication, tampering with evidence, reckless endangerment, leaving the scene of an accident, and DUI.

Prosecuting attorney Sarah Keith delivered the state's last arguments, stating that the evidence shows Harper was not only reckless, but he also took many steps to cover his tracks.

"While others were doing the right thing, Curtis Harper was thinking of no one but himself," said Keith.

She listed off steps he made to erase evidence and avoid responsibility to the jury: 1) he didn't stop to get a blood alcohol test; 2) he tried to get his car repaired out of state; 3) he washed his car after the accident, etc.

While defense attorney William Price gave his closing statements, Harper showed little emotion. Price asked the jury not to disregard witnesses' testimonies that Harper was sober at The Hill Bar.  Still, the defense urged jurors to recognize that other witnesses presumed Harper was drunk and could not testify whether they saw him drink or if he smelled of alcohol.

Price also questioned whether Harper could see anything at 1:00 a.m. on Washington Pike due its curves.  The defense stressed that Harper's actions were an accident, but not criminal.

The prosecution and defense finished their closing arguments at about 11:30 a.m. and the case was handed over to the jury at about noon.

Previous Story

For the first time, a Middle Tennessee man accused of driving drunk and killing three people is talking about what happened that evening.

Curtis Harper took the stand Monday afternoon on the sixth day of his trial. He faces 11 counts, including vehicular homicide and tampering with evidence, that stemmed from the deaths of Nelson Soto Sr., Chasity Thornell, and Thornell's unborn baby.

The young man talked about the events of May 29 and 30, 2012, which lead to the car crash on Washington Pike.

"About 11:20, 11:30 (a friend) asked if we wanted to split a pitcher (of beer)," Harper recalled the night at The Hill, a bar in Fort Sanders. On the stand, he admitted to having vodka and orange soda, along with the beer, but claimed he was not drunk that evening.

He described the drive home in his 57 minute-long testimony.

"I was driving, it seemed kind of usual on other trips I've taken on that road," he said. "I swerved left, to get past this car, I heard a loud crash. At that point, I continued driving. I thought I hit the car. It was right in the middle of my lane, and I tried to do my best to swerve my way."

Defense lawyer William Price asked him why he continued driving.

"I was scared I hit this car and then I left," Harper said.

When prosecuting attorney Sarah Keith cross-examined Harper, she questioned if he had any idea he hit people.

"You didn't see her body when she slid under her vehicle?" asked Keith.

"I didn't," Harper responded.

She later asked him why he washed his car the morning after the crash, noting blood was on the vehicle. "You washed piece of Ms. Thronell off your car and in the drain, and in the parking lot" said Keith.

"Yes I did," Harper said.

"You didn't call police?" she later asked

"No I didn't," Harper's response.

Also on the stand was Harper's girlfriend, Amy Morrow, who claimed Harper was not intoxicated that evening. Also on the stand was Scott Reling, an accident reconstruction expert and Dr. David Stafford, a toxicologist. He claimed the alcohol that Harper said he had that evening would not make him legally intoxicated.

The jury was sent home before 4:00 p.m. Closing arguments are scheduled for Tuesday morning.

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