It took the jury just a few hours to decide that 33-year-old Christopher Lee Smith was guilty of second-degree murder and three counts of aggravated assault, all stemming from Christmas Eve 2007 when he drove the wrong way on Pecos Road, while drunk and smashed into a van.
On Friday, Smith will learn his fate.
The maximum penalty for second-degree murder is 22 years in prison. In addition, Judge Sam Myer could add consecutive sentences of five years, minimum, for each of the three aggravated assault charges.
Making Smith’s future even bleaker is the fact that he was on probation for endangerment at the time of the crash.
For prosecutors, the case was simple.
“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 during closing arguments in February.
But the defense had a more exotic explanation of why Smith was driving the wrong way on Pecos Road with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.20 percent, more than double the legal limit.
Charles Shell, Smith’s attorney, 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.
In Arizona, intoxication is no excuse for a criminal act, and for at least one juror, alcohol was the key.
“It wasn’t really the issue of did we believe the sleep-walking defense,” said the juror who lives in Ahwatukee Foothills and asked that her name not be used. “It didn’t work because both the experts said you can’t take alcohol out of the equation.”
The prosecution pointed to the quick jury decision as a sign that drinking, not sleeping, caused the death of Trang Vo and the injuries to three other family members.
“They clearly said it was an alcohol case, not a sleep-driving case,” said Deputy County Attorney Mike Munoz, one of two prosecutors.
Police say that Smith killed Vo, 34, and seriously injured Nuong Chung, 49, and his wife Tuyet Nguyen, 51, and Chung’s sister, 36-year-old Kiem Chung, as 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, just east of Desert Foothills Parkway.
Chuyng and Nguyen own a nail salon in Ahwatukee Foothills, and their injuries continue to prevent them from returning to work full time, they testified.
Smith had been spending time with his parents in The Foothills that night and allegedly was planning to spend the night. But instead, around 11 p.m. he drove onto Pecos Road, first driving to 27th Avenue, then turning around and driving the wrong way on Pecos Road until the crash.
Sentencing is set for 1:30 April 16 before Myer in Maricopa County Superior Court in downtown Phoenix.