Jury clears driver of most charges in deadly Vail wreck

2014-01-14T17:00:00Z 2014-01-15T14:41:13Z Jury clears driver of most charges in deadly Vail wreckBy Patrick McNamara Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The defense attorney implored jurors to listen for a voice from the afterlife in their deliberations.

“Armando Hernandez calls out from the grave and calls Devlin Hermeling a liar,” attorney Jeff Rogers said in closing arguments Friday during the trial of Joan Elaine Laidlaw.

The jury listened, finding Laidlaw not guilty Monday of manslaughter, two counts of aggravated assault and driving under the influence .

Laidlaw was accused of manslaughter in the death of Armando Daniel Hernandez, 18, who died when she crashed her 1977 Chevy Blazer on a dirt road in Vail in October 2012. Hermeling was a passenger and was injured in the crash.

Rogers argued that Hermeling, a key prosecution witness, and Hernandez caused the wreck when one of the two fired a gun out the window, startling Laidlaw and causing her to crash.

Laidlaw had driven the two into the desert to fire shotguns, he told jurors. Both were friends with her son and had come to her house that night with their guns.

Sheriff’s deputies responding to the crash recovered just one shotgun.

Rogers said that was because Hermeling briefly fled the crash site  and hid the gun in the desert.

Police did recover two kinds of shotgun shells at the scene, however. One was a match for the gun Hernandez had and the other was a match to a gun Hermeling was seen holding in photo taken the night of the incident.

During cross examination, Hermeling denied having a weapon.

Prosecutors argued Laidlaw was high on marijuana and prescription drugs the night she ran a stop sign and crashed into a berm and rolled the truck.

“She was reckless when she decided to smoke weed,” Deputy Pima County Attorney Ashley Bock said.

Police recovered a bag of marijuana and pipe belonging to Laidlaw at the scene.

Bock said Laidlaw’s explanation defied logic, saying the defense wanted jurors to take several “unreasonable leaps.”

“The first time we heard about this crash being caused by someone shooting out the window was at trial — she didn’t tell the police,” Bock said.

Bock also said it was unreasonable to believe Laidlaw needed to drive Hernandez and Hermeling to go shooting when they arrived at her house in their own cars.

“What Devlin told you happened is what actually happened,” she said.

The jury did find Laidlaw guilty of possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia and driving with an illegal drug in her body.

Blood tests showed the presence of both marijuana and benzodiazepine in Laidlaw’s system the night of the accident.

Sentencing on those convictions is scheduled for February.

Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at 573-4241 or pmcnamara@azstarnet.com. On Twitter @pm929.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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