Local News

Wednesday, May 28 2014 01:44 PM

Closing arguments conclude in trial of alleged texting motorist

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Anna Marie Reynosa partially covers her face as she views aerial video of the site of the crash she was involved in where Charla Wilkins was killed. Reynosa and her attorney, Ernest Hinman, were listening to closing arguments in her trial by prosecuting attorney Esther Schlaerth in which Reynosa was allegedly texting and driving when the Tacoma pick up she was driving hit Wilkins' motorcycle while she was at a stop sign.

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BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

Closing arguments in the trial of an alleged texting motorist involved in a fatal crash included accusations of "bullying" against the lead investigator, which prosecutors dismissed as nothing more than an attempt to distract jurors from the facts of the case.

Those facts, prosecutor Esther Schlaerth said during her rebuttal Wednesday, are that Charla Wilkins died because Anna Marie Reynosa was speeding and so distracted by her cellphone she ran a stop sign the evening of April 14, 2012. Reynosa's pickup crashed into the back of Wilkins' motorcycle, pinning the bike upright and partly underneath the truck as it traveled 331.6 feet before coming to a stop.

The facts are that Reynosa is responsible for the death of the 20-year-old Wilkins, Schlaerth said.

"It's not an act of God, or a tree (that) fell on Charla," she said.

Wilkins was stopped at a stop sign at the intersection of Jewetta Avenue and Reina Road in northwest Bakersfield when Reynosa slammed into her at 8:37 p.m.

Reynosa, 22, is charged with gross vehicular manslaughter and faces up to six years in prison if convicted.

Earlier Wednesday, Deputy Public Defender Ernest Hinman went over the testimony of virtually everyone who took the stand during the 11-day trial. The person he focused most on, however, was Bakersfield police Detective Chris Bagby.

Hinman called Bagby a "bully" who ridiculed defense witnesses and coerced Reynosa into falsely admitting she'd been texting while driving. He said the detective had his mind made up regarding Reynosa's guilt from the moment he first talked to her.

"You don't want this guy interrogating your son or daughter," Hinman told the jury.

Hinman admitted Reynosa was negligent in running the stop sign, but said her actions fell below the threshold for gross negligence.

Schlaerth called Hinman's accusations against Bagby a "desperate" attempt to create a villain in the case and shift the attention away from Reynosa.

She said Bagby has investigated more than 200 fatal collisions. He showed the work for his calculations of Reynosa's speed in the crash, and even used another calculation to make sure the results were accurate.

Schlaerth posed a series of questions to the jury. She asked why, if Bagby already had his mind made up regarding Reynosa's guilt, did he not arrest her the night of the crash?

Why did he conduct thorough examinations of both vehicles, Schlaerth asked. Why did he doublecheck his work if he had already made a snap judgment of the defendant?

As for the bullying accusations, Schlaerth pointed out Bagby offered advice to Reynosa at the end of his interview with her the night of the crash. He recommended she seek counseling, or, if she was religious, to take solace in her church.

And Bagby told her she needed to tell the truth because someone had already died, Schlaerth said. The detective told her she needed to be honest; he wanted to make sure she was fairly dealt with.

The jury began deliberations after its lunch break Wednesday, spending about 2 1/2 hours sequestered before leaving at 4:30 p.m. Deliberations resume at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Judge John W. Lua, once the jury had left the courtroom to start deliberating, addressed what has recently become an issue in the trial: the media.

Lua said he'd been informed a TV cameraman had attempted to speak to Hinman about the case Wednesday while in the presence of jurors. Both Hinman and Schlaerth confirmed the incident had occurred.

The only cameraman in court Wednesday was from KGET Channel 17.

Lua said he would take "measures" if other incidents involving the media occurred. This was the second incident in two days involving cameramen from local TV stations.

On Tuesday, Lua ordered a cameraman from KERO Channel 23 to leave the courtroom. The cameraman had disrupted Hinman's closing argument as he set up his equipment while replacing another cameraman from the station.

KERO was not given permission to film Wednesday.

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