Man convicted of aggravated DUI in 2016 fatal car-pedestrian accident

Man convicted of aggravated DUI in 2016 fatal car-pedestrian accident

URBANA — A Champaign County jury convicted an Urbana man of causing the death of a Champaign woman in late 2016 while driving with cocaine in his system.

Despite arguments by the attorneys for Joseph Perry, 47, that the state had not proven that cocaine in his system was the "proximate cause" of Marjorie Roberts' death, the jury apparently believed there was a connection.

Perry, of the 1100 block of East Main Street, is set to be sentenced Jan. 25 by Judge Adam Dill for aggravated driving under the influence. The penalties range from three to 14 years in prison, but probation is an option under "extraordinary" circumstances.

The jury of six men and six women deliberated about three-and-a-half hours after hearing closing arguments early Thursday afternoon from Assistant State's Attorney Will Lynch and Westville defense attorney Sandy Lawlyes, who was assisted by her husband, attorney Doug Lawlyes.

The state wrapped up its case late Thursday morning after testimony from Champaign police Detective Jim Bednarz, who interviewed Perry about two weeks after the Dec. 28, 2016, fatal accident on Bradley Avenue near Willis Avenue, just blocks from Mrs. Roberts' home on Beardsley Avenue.

Lawlyes called no one to testify on Perry's behalf, instead mounting his defense through vigorous cross-examination of the state's 11 witnesses. As is his right, Perry declined to testify.

Testimony and a video from a nearby business revealed that about 5:50 p.m. that Wednesday, Mrs. Roberts, 76, was slowly crossing Bradley from north to south while using a walker. She was wearing blue pants and a red shirt. Her walker was red and black.

Police testified that although there are street lights and ambient light from businesses, that section of Bradley is considered poorly lit. There was and is no crosswalk in that heavily trafficked, area but the city council recently agreed on making improvements.

Mrs. Roberts had made it across the two westbound lanes of Bradley and was in the eastbound passing lane when Perry's pickup truck struck her right side, sending her and her walker flying through the air into the lane next to where he was.

A witness who saw Mrs. Roberts catapulted into the air and land on the street said Perry got out of his truck and revealed to her and others nearby that he had not seen the woman.

The two-minute video confirmed that his truck did not slow prior to making contact with what he told police he thought was an animal.

Bednarz testified that Perry, who voluntarily agreed to blood and urine tests that night, also was "very cooperative" with him two weeks later. Bednarz said Perry told him he had turned off McKinley to go east on Bradley and that an oncoming car flashed its brights, momentarily blinding him, just prior to the collision.

Bednarz said he asked Perry if he had been drinking or using any controlled substances.

"He said, 'Absolutely not,'" Bednarz testified.

A state crime lab examination of blood and urine samples taken that night revealed otherwise, showing that he still had cocaine and cocaine metabolites in his system.

In closing arguments, Lynch said Perry's use of the cocaine met the criteria for being a "proximate cause" of Mrs. Roberts' death.

Reading the instruction of law to the jury, Lynch said proximate cause means "any cause which in the natural or probable sequence caused the death."

"It need not be the only cause nor the last or nearest cause," Lynch argued.

But Sandy Lawlyes argued that Lynch had not proved all the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.

"There was no autopsy. They made an assumption about what caused her death," Lawlyes said.

Carle emergency-room Dr. Henry Rahsaan Moore, the trauma surgeon who worked on Mrs. Roberts for 15 minutes before she died, concluded that she died from "blunt force trauma" caused by a "constellation of injuries" on the right side of her body.

Sandy Lawlyes argued that Moore had no experience as a pathologist and had never previously been qualified as an expert in court to render an opinion on cause of death.

Though the incident was initially deemed an accident, Perry was ticketed for failure to yield to a pedestrian. The more-serious felony charge was filed about five months later after the state received the lab results on his blood and urine.

Lawlyes conceded that the video of Mrs. Roberts being hit was "horrible" but argued that the fact that she was crossing slowly in a poorly lit area without any reflective clothing or reflectors on her walker were actions "that were not forseeable" to Perry.

She reiterated that evidence was that Perry was not speeding, was not in the wrong lane, was briefly blinded by oncoming bright lights and was completely cooperative with police, who agreed he showed no indicators of impairment.

"The state is asking you to assume that what is on that video is absolutely what caused her death. That is just one piece of evidence," Lawlyes argued.

But Lynch countered that if Perry was blinded, he should have stopped right away. And he urged jurors not to be hoodwinked about what caused Mrs. Roberts' death.

"You did not check your common sense at the door. I'm asking you to use that. Find him guilty," Lynch said.

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