Tempers flare in Accokeek street-racing trial
Defense attorney blasts county officer over process of collecting incriminating statement
The defense for a man on trial for vehicular manslaughter in the 2008 Accokeek street-racing crash that killed eight people pushed jurors Wednesday to disregard an incriminating statement the man gave to police, arguing the officer knew the man was high on marijuana at the time.
Defense attorney J. Wyndal Gordon unsuccessfully asked the Prince George's County judge in April to throw out the statement defendant Tavon J. Taylor, 20, of Waldorf, gave to police in July 2008. The statement surrounded his alleged involvement in an illegal street race connected to the Feb. 16, 2008, crash along a stretch of Indian Head Highway/Route 210 in Accokeek.
Taylor, who pleaded not guilty, faces eight counts of vehicular manslaughter and a maximum of 80 years in prison if convicted during the trial, which began Feb. 1.
In the statement to Prince George's County Police Department Cpl. Christopher Hinkson, Taylor allegedly admitted to racing along Indian Head Highway the night of the crash. However, in the statement, Hinkson checked a box indicating Taylor was under the influence of a substance at the time, and Gordon said Taylor claims he told the officer he was high.
Taylor also claimed authorities promised him they would drop the charges if he made a statement.
But in court Tuesday and Wednesday, Hinkson disputed the claims, testifying he did not know Taylor was high on marijuana, and Hinkson made a mistake in checking the waiver form.
He also told jurors he never promised Taylor anything if he made statements, and that Taylor was forthcoming in giving the statement.
"When I came into [the station, Taylor] stood up and apologized to me for lying," Hinkson told jurors, referring to previous statements Taylor gave to Hinkson, in which Taylor allegedly said he was not involved in the street race. "He said, I had to tell the truth.'"
Police said Taylor and Darren Bullock, 22, of Waldorf were racing on Indian Head Highway and were blinded by smoke from a previous street race when Bullock's vehicle plowed into a crowd of about 200 people that had gathered to watch the previous race.
Bullock pleaded guilty Jan. 29 to eight counts of vehicular manslaughter and is expected to be sentenced March 1 to up to 15 years in jail.
The prosecution, led by Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, has argued although Taylor's vehicle did not strike the victims, the alleged race between Taylor and Bullock makes them both responsible for the deaths.
Gordon also suggested the officer falsified Taylor's incriminating statements. Gordon called into question three interviews from February 2008 through that July in which, Gordon said, Hinkson failed to allow Taylor to review his statements and did not ask Taylor to sign his statements. Gordon also called into question Hinkson's training on recognizing if someone is under the influence of controlled substances.
When Gordon asked Hinkson why he didn't require Taylor to review or sign statements entered into a computer in March of 2008, Hinkson said he "didn't think it was necessary."
"I took steps to accurately take down statements," he said.
But when Gordon asked Hinkson if he had any proof the statements entered were accurate, Hinkson fired back, telling Gordon his question suggests Hinkson falsified the documents.
"That's exactly what I am suggesting," Gordon interjected.
During court proceedings Tuesday, an expert witness from the state's medical examiner's office delivered graphic testimony to jurors of how the victims perished.
The testimony by Carol Allen, an assistant medical examiner whose office performed autopsy reports on the victims, also called into question whether all eight people died during the actual crash or whether some were instead killed by other vehicles leaving the scene in the ensuing pandemonium.
In her testimony, Allen said it was likely some of the victims were struck and run over by more than one vehicle, which the defense argued could mean Bullock may not have been responsible for all eight deaths.
During cross-examination, Gordon led Allen to clarify there is no way of proving Bullock's vehicle struck and killed all eight victims, and he maintained some victims could have been struck by vehicles fleeing the scene or vehicles already passing on the roadway.
On Tuesday, Allen also presented blunt and at times uncomfortable diagrams of how each victim died. She described skull fractures, severed limbs and disembowelments, telling the jury the carnage caused to the victims' bodies could have only been more extreme if they were struck by trains.
"As prosecution has argued in court, the jury needs to be aware of the seriousness of these events," said Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for Ivey.
E-mail Joshua Garner at firstname.lastname@example.org.