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Jury set to ponder fate of Valencia

Deliberation is slated to begin today in DUI-murder trial for Marco Valencia

Posted: April 27, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 27, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

SAN FERNANDO — Jurors are scheduled to begin deliberations today in the murder trial of Marco Valencia, who was charged with driving drunk up Bouquet Canyon Road in July 2009 and plowing into a group of bicyclists, killing one and injuring three others.

During closing arguments in San Fernando Superior Court on Tuesday, Valencia’s defense attorney Robert Wilder didn’t dispute that his client caused the crash that killed Joe Novotny, and that Valencia was driving drunk at the time.

However, Wilder argued that his client should be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, not murder.

He based his argument on testimony from a neuropsychologist, who told the jury Valencia may have been clinically unconscious at the time of the crash, and therefore couldn’t have intended to kill Novotny.

To find the Canyon Country resident guilty of murder, the 12-member jury would need to find that Valencia acted with malice and a conscious disregard for human life when he decided to get behind the wheel of his Ford F-150 while drunk.
Deputy District Attorney William Chung called the expert testimony “junk science.”

Conscious disregard
Neuropsychologist Ari Kalechstein was the only witness for the defense during the trial. Kalechstein based his opinion that Valencia was unconscious at the time of the crash on reports showed Valencia’s blood-alcohol level was at between 0.23 and 0.25 at the time.

“You can’t have a conscious disregard for human life if you’re unconscious,” Wilder told the jury. “You can’t have a mental state of mind if you’re unconscious.”

Valencia, 22, could serve a life sentence in state prison if convicted of murder.

“Involuntary manslaughter is not some slap on the wrist for Mr. Valencia,” Wilder said. “It’s still murder.”

Chung attacked the validity of Kalechstein’s testimony, and said Valencia was aware of his surroundings and knew the risks of driving drunk before he started drinking about 8 a.m. on July 11, 2009.

Valencia managed to stay on the roadway as he drove more than 15 miles north along Bouquet Canyon Road after the 10:40 a.m. crash, Chung said. When Valencia was arrested at gun point, deputies testified, he pleaded to be shot.

Chung said Valencia’s plea to be killed is proof he knew the seriousness of his crime.

“How dare that expert say (Valencia) didn’t understand the consequences of his actions,” Chung said. “When you put your life experience and common sense in perspective, (Kalechstein’s testimony) doesn’t make sense.”

Two DUI convictions
Exactly five months before the fatal crash, Valencia was convicted of his second DUI.

Chung showed jurors a letter Valencia wrote after visiting a morgue as part of a court-mandated DUI education program.

At the morgue, Valencia saw the bodies of victims of DUI-related crashes.

“I will never forget the smell of the place,” Valencia wrote after the morgue visit. “I would never like the guilt trip of ending somebody’s life as the result of my stupid decision.”

Chung said it was only a matter of time before Valencia killed someone while driving drunk.

“When (Valencia) actually got into that car on July 11, 2009, it’s not that he didn’t know about the danger,” Chung said. “It’s that he didn’t care.”

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