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Manslaughter verdict in school DUI accident


Published: February 18, 2011

AFTER THREE days of deliberating, a Monterey County Superior Court jury declined to find a Monterey woman guilty of murder in the death of a Pacific Grove man she ran down and killed in Sept. 2008 in front of the city’s middle school. But the jury, which announced its verdict Thursday afternoon, convicted Deborah King of Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated, which could also bring her a life sentence.

During a two-week trial, prosecutor Steve Somers said King was high on powerful painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs and sleep aids when she drove her BMW SUV into Joel Woods as he picked up his son from school and killed him.

Because she had five prior DUIs, spent two years in prison for one of them, had gone through alcohol abuse classes, and had been repeatedly warned by family members that if she didn’t stop drinking and driving that “somebody was going to get killed,” Somers told the jury her actions amounted to murder.

But public defender Heather Rogers, while admitting King killed Woods, claimed his death was an accident. Unlike her earlier DUIs, no alcohol was involved when King struck him, and the drugs she took that day were all prescribed by her doctor, Rogers said, and didn’t impair her ability to drive. And because jurors were required by state law to give King the benefit of any doubts they might have about the prosecution’s case, if any such doubt existed in their minds, they must acquit her.

“You may not like Ms. King, and you may want to find her guilty,” Rogers told the jury during closing arguments. “But if you have one doubt, you must find ‘not guilty.’”

While jurors agreed King’s actions weren’t murder, they also sided with prosecutors that she committed a very serious crime when she headed down Forest Avenue on Sept. 2, 2008, with numerous drugs in her system.