LOS ANGELES, Calif. – A substance-abuse counsellor who drove three kilometres through a Los Angeles suburb with a dying man on her windshield was convicted Tuesday of second-degree murder, drunken driving and hit-and-run.
Sherri Lynn Wilkins showed no response as the Superior Court jury returned with its verdict.
Wilkins’ blood-alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit for driving when she struck 31-year-old Phillip Moreno in November 2012 in suburban Torrance, prosecutors said.
“The way she treated Phillip Moreno struck at human dignity,” Deputy District Attorney John Harlan, the lead prosecutor, said after the verdict. “This case has been about human dignity. We do not tolerate someone who does not pull over when they see someone on their windshield.”
A large contingent of Moreno’s relatives, including brothers and sisters, were present for the verdict. Outside court, they embraced Harlan and co-prosecutor Saman Ahmadpour but declined to speak to reporters.
Wilkins, 52, who was an addict before she became a drug and alcohol counsellor, said she had been drinking that night but wasn’t drunk. She said she had been “self-medicating” while waiting for knee-replacement surgery and had consumed three single-serving bottles of vodka and a can of Budweiser beer and Clamato before starting to drive.
Her lawyer, Nan Whitfield, was unreachable for comment. She had argued that Moreno was drunk and jumped on Wilkins’ car and that she panicked.
Wilkins testified that she never saw him coming and it is was as if he fell out of the sky.
Harlan said during the trial that the force of the crash punched a hole in the passenger side of Wilkins’ window, and Moreno lost his shoes and pants, but still she didn’t stop to render aid or call 911.
It wasn’t until passing motorists noticed the bizarre scene that they were able to swarm Wilkins’ car at a traffic light and keep her there until police arrived.
Wilkins faces a maximum sentence of 45 years to life. Jurors found to be true the allegation that she has a record of two previous serious felonies, making her subject to the California three-strikes law.
Superior Court Judge Henry Hall set Wilkins’ sentencing for March 26.
She testified during the trial, telling jurors the story of her addiction, which began when she was in a car accident at the age of 15 and suffered a broken back and shattered bones in her ankles and legs. Wilkins said she started using heroin when it became “cheaper than going to the doctor.”
Wilkins, who acknowledged having served time for residential burglaries over the years, said she kicked the heroin habit with the help of methadone and more recently had been using medical marijuana. She told of obtaining a degree in addiction counselling and going to work at a treatment centre.
Wilkins was leaving the centre on the night of the crash.