Was it drunk driving or sleep driving? That is the question a 14 member jury panel will have to decide in the second-degree murder trial of Christopher Smith.
Smith is accused of the 2007 Christmas Eve death of Trang Vo when he drove the wrong way on Pecos Road for miles, eventually crashing into the van that carried Vo as a passenger.
Smith is also charged with three counts of aggravated assault for the injuries that Kiem Chung, Ngyon Chung, and Tuyet Nguyen, all sustained in the same crash. The four were returning home when the crash occurred.
Deputy County Attorney Allister Adell told the six-man, eight-women jury panel that Smith has a blood alcohol level of 0.20 -- more than twice the legal limit -- and that even as vehicles swerved to evade Smith while flashing their lights, he continued until running head-on into the Van.
"He knew the dangers of drinking and driving because he had a previous DUI," Adell told jurors during opening statements Tuesday morning.
Defense attorney Charles K. Shell admitted that his client had too much to drink, was driving on the wrong side of the road and that there was a horrific crash.
But he said it could have been due to 'sleep driving' caused by too much alcohol.
Shell explained to the jury that Smith had planed to stay with his parents that night near 27th Avenue and Pecos Road, adding that "There is a lot of evidence that Chris was in a semi-conscious state when he went to bed that night."
Shell spoke briefly during opening statements, ending with a plea for the jurors not to succumb to emotion but to listen to the facts and "make a fair determination."
Smith faces a maximum of 22 years for the second-degree murder charge, but Shell told the jury that he felt his client's punishment should be far less because of the sleep driving.
The trial is expected to last about two weeks in Maricopa County Superior Court in downtown Phoenix.
For updates, keep checking ahwatukee.com or see the Feb. 5 issue of the Ahwatukee Foothills News.