A young Columbia woman whose lawyer thinks she was given a date rape drug before she caused a fatal crash now faces a new trial.
And a new judge.
Kelli Smith, 26, was set to go before the same judge in Montgomery County court as she did in December 2014, when a jury convicted her of involuntary manslaughter in the death of 35-year-old Thomas D. Sullivan II. She received a five-year prison sentence but has been out on bond pending appeal.
Before the hearing could begin Wednesday morning, attorneys on both sides got word that 12th Judicial Circuit Judge Wesley Clay Dalton had recused himself.
His action came in response to a motion filed by Smith’s attorney last month seeking a new judge and a change of venue. Because Dalton is the only judge in his circuit, the Missouri Supreme Court now will appoint a judge, said Jennifer Bukowsky, a Columbia lawyer representing Smith.
“This is excellent news,” Bukowsky said Wednesday after the hearing. “It’s important to have a new judge so that I feel I can guide my client in her right to a fair trial.”
In her motion for a new judge, Bukowsky argued that Dalton had sustained a far greater number of the objections brought by the state than the defense. According to the motion, of the 144 objections made by the prosecution, 110 were sustained. The defense objected 56 times, with two sustained.
Last month, The Star told Smith’s story and the mystery of what happened on Feb. 25, 2012. Bukowsky thinks that before Smith ended up driving the wrong way on Interstate 70, naked from the waist down, the young woman was given a date rape drug and sexually assaulted.
Bukowsky said she was not allowed in the first trial to present her full theory and will have additional evidence for the second trial on how prevalent involuntary intoxication is in Columbia.
Prosecutors said Smith was intoxicated when she drove west in an eastbound lane of I-70 at 3:30 a.m. and slammed into Sullivan, who was headed to St. Louis to see his two young boys. Her blood was not taken at the hospital until 7 1/2 hours later and was not refrigerated for 10 days.
A juror from the first trial said the panel decided early in deliberations not to consider the blood because of when it was taken and how it was stored. Jurors remained deadlocked for several hours during deliberations and at one point stood 10-2 for not guilty, said juror Gloria Langenecker. It wasn’t until the second day of deliberations, she said, that some jurors reluctantly went with a guilty verdict based on the fact that Smith did cause the crash.
But Langenecker said she and other jurors believed something terrible happened to Smith before the wreck that night. And she plans to be at the second trial to support Smith.
“I think it’s a big step in the right direction,” Langenecker said Wednesday. “Nothing against Judge Dalton. I just think if you’re going to have a new jury, you should have a new judge.”