After a one-day delay to change judges after the originally assigned judge had to remove himself from the case because of a personal matter, the attorneys in the trial gave their opening statements and questioned the state’s first seven witnesses.
Bobby Lee Newman, 28, has been charged with homicide by vehicle, serious injury by vehicle, driving under the influence and making a false statement to a police officer. Todd Allyn Goddard, 27, of Temple died as a result of the car accident.
During his opening statement to the jury of six men and six women, Newman’s attorney, Carrollton attorney Jason Swindle, said the central issue of the case is not who was drinking, but who was driving the car at the time of the accident.
“My client was drinking — so was everybody else,” Swindle said. “The question here boils down to this: can the state of Georgia prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Bobby Lee Newman was driving? I can tell you with absolute certainty that they are not going to come close to proving that.”
During his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Vincent Faucette laid out the factual basis of the charges.
In the early morning hours of Feb. 18, 2012, four men, including Newman and Goddard, were traveling north on Center Point Road in a 1994 Ford Probe, a car belonging to Goddard’s younger brother.
While driving, the car left the roadway, struck a ditch and overturned before resting on the side of the road. None of the four men were found to be wearing seatbelts at the time of the accident.
Newman and another passenger, 24-year-old Richard Christopher Evans, of Temple, were ejected as the car overturned. Both Newman and Evans had been seated on the car’s driver side, Faucette said.
Goddard, Faucette said, was sitting in the front passenger seat. Fellow passenger Christopher Allen Nestick, 26, of Villa Rica, who testified Wednesday, was flown to Atlanta Medical Center for treatment.
Faucette told the jury that Newman had made a false statement to the responding officer, Trooper First Class Nicholas Moore, when he said that he was not involved in the accident, but had been riding down the road when he saw the crashed car and got out to help.
That false statement, Faucette said, is the basis for Newman’s fourth charge.
“The state has to prove that [Newman] was drunk, that there were injuries and a death, and that he was driving,” Faucette said. “I’m confident we’ll be able to do that, and ask that you return a guilty verdict on all nine counts.”
Swindle argued in his opening statement that the scientific evidence, or “lack thereof,” as he said, was going to be the theme of the trial.
“There would be blood in the car, on the steering wheel or on the front seat, and [investigators] could take a sample of that blood and match it up with the DNA of anyone in the car,” Swindle said.
Swindle said that hair fibers and fingerprints could also have been taken to prove that his client was driving, but they were not taken.
Georgia State Patrol Trooper Tim Brock, the assisting officer in the accident, told jurors during his testimony that he’d never tried to get prints off of a steering wheel because a smooth surface is needed.
“And as for the blood — when you get four people in a car and it’s flipping around, there’s going to be blood everywhere,” Brock said. “I would be reluctant to use it as evidence.”
Newman was found to have a blood alcohol content of 0.13 several hours after the accident. The legal driving limit is 0.08.
Jurors heard from Nestick, who was found in the cargo area of the vehicle, along with Goddard.
Nestick testified that the four men were leaving the Carrollton restaurant and bar T.C. Rose that night when Goddard expressed that he didn’t want to drive home.
“And Bobby said, ‘I got you, I’ll drive,’” Nestick said.
Nestick said the four men then got into the car, with Newman in the driver’s seat. He then admitted that he fell asleep 10 minutes into the car ride, waking up only after the accident had occured. He told the jurors during cross-examination by Swindle that he did not know “for sure” that Newman was driving at the time of the accident.
“You don’t have any idea how long you were in the car or where you were driven that night after you fell asleep, do you?” Swindle asked, to which Nestick said, “No, I do not.”
The jurors also heard from the first witnesses who were on the scene — three men who were at the crash site before the state patrol had arrived.
Rafael McCoy of Temple was being driven home from Carrollton by his wife when the Ford Probe swerved around them at a four-way stop. He then saw the car lose control, overturn and land on the side of the road.
When McCoy reached the crash site, he made contact with Newman, who was thrown from the vehicle into a nearby pasture. McCoy testified that Newman told him he did not know who was driving the car when the accident happened.
The state also called three men who were in a nearby residence when they heard the accident. Two of the men went to render aid to the injured, with one staying in the home.
Pictures of the accident site, as well as photos of the crashed car and the deceased shortly after his death, were published to the jury for consideration during Faucette’s direct questioning.
More than a dozen friends and family members of the deceased were present for the trial on Wednesday.
The trial is set to continue at 9 a.m. today, with the state expected to call more witnesses.