It took a jury just a few hours of deliberation to find Christopher Smith guilty of second-degree murder and three counts of aggravated assault for a Christmas Eve 2007 crash that killed one and injured three.
The verdict Thursday afternoon came a day after closing arguments where prosecutors said Smith was drunk driving when he drove the wrong way on Pecos Road that night and slammed his vehicle into a van carrying an Ahwatukee Foothills family.
“What makes sense, and logical and leaves you firmly convinced is that he got drunk, got behind the wheel and killed someone,” Deputy County Attorney Allister Adel told the jury Wednesday.
But defense attorney Charles Shell told the same jury that the tragedy was not his client’s fault because Smith was driving in his sleep and was unaware of what he was doing.
“The tipping point is sleep,” Shell explained, saying that if his client fell asleep after drinking, his actions were involuntary, and he can’t be held criminally responsible.
“If it’s not voluntary, it’s not criminal, Shell said.
Laboratory results show that Smith had the equivalent of at least eight drinks in his system when he drove head-on into a van around the 1400 block of East Pecos Road after leaving his parents’ home following a Christmas Eve gathering.
He is charged with the second-degree murder of Trang Vo, 34, and three counts of aggravated assault for injuring Nuong Chung, 49, and his wife Tuyet Nguyen, 51, and Chung’s sister, 36-year-old Kiem Chung. The four were coming home after a special Vietnamese concert on Christmas Eve when Smith’s Buick Regal ran head-on into their Dodge Caravan, police said.
Smith’s blood alcohol concentration was 0.20 percent, more than twice the legal limit, more than an hour after the crash, according to testimony.
An expert witness hired by the defense, Dr. Dave Gaither of Illinois, testified that if Smith had gone to sleep first, then he was probably sleep driving and unaware of what he was doing.
But he also conceded that he never interviewed Smith, or his parents, to see if he even had a sleep problem and that all he knew of the case came from Smith’s attorney.
The state’s expert, Dr. David Baratz, had another explanation for driving the wrong way on Pecos Road.“I can’t say it was any more than an alcohol-related accident,” Baratz told the jury.
But in the end, both experts agreed that they did not know if Smith went to sleep in his parents’ guest bedroom after the Christmas party and later woke up, or if he simply decided to go for a drive.
Deputy County Attorney Mike Munoz went after the defense witnesses, pointing out to the jury what he said were inconsistencies in testimony, including statements from Smith’s sister that the parents planned to take his keys away from him, that the father admitted that if he thought Smith was going to drive that night he would have taken the car keys away, but how he couldn’t remember his son drinking more than one or two drinks during Christmas Eve.
“Why doesn’t that make sense?” Munoz asked the jury. “Because somebody’s not telling the truth.”Also troubling, according to the prosecution, was when Smith’s parents admitted their youngest son was planning to spend the night with them, but that they woke up and found him gone from the guest bedroom, but didn’t attempt to call their son or call authorities.
The jury of six men and six women took just a few hours to find Smith guilty of the most serious charges, rejecting lesser charges of of manslaughter and negligent homicide. They also found him guilty of the three counts of aggravated assault.
Smith, 33, faces up to 22 years in prison for the second-degree murder charge when he is sentenced by Superior Court Judge Sam Myer.
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