By Ehsan Sadeghi
San Francisco – San Francisco’s first evidentiary hearing under California’s new felony-murder law continued for a second day, with the accident reconstruction expert testifying before Judge John K. Stewart that Michael Wilson, not Emmit Lewis, was driving when the truck struck and killed Scott Adsit.
To find a defendant guilty of first-degree felony murder under the new law, the court must consider each individual’s culpability as a result of their involvement in the crime.
To uphold a murder conviction in this case, the district attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that either defendant was the actual killer (by being the driver of the truck), an accomplice who aided with the intent to kill, or a major participant in the underlying crime who acted with reckless indifference to human life.
As with the first hearing day, the central issue was determining who drove the GMC truck on the night of the accident.
Mr. Lewis’s attorneys, San Francisco Public Defender Nicole Solis and Kristin Hucek of Keker Van Nest, called Chris Kauderer, an accredited accident reconstructionist, to testify regarding who was driving the GMC that hit Mr. Adsit.
Mr. Kauderer’s testimony regarding occupant kinematics—the movement of the truck’s occupants throughout the incident—focused on two impacts: first, the collision between the GMC truck the defendants were driving and a work truck double-parked in the street, and, second, the collision between the GMC truck and a parked van further down the road.
As far as occupant kinematics were concerned, Mr. Kauderer added, the force of hitting Mr. Adsit would have been inconsequential.
Responding to questions from Ms. Hucek, Mr. Kauderer concluded that Mr. Lewis was the passenger at the time of the accident and that he climbed out of the passenger side window, since the car doors were jammed.
He based his testimony on the physical evidence and on how physics would dictate the occupants of the truck would move. Physical evidence in the truck included Mr. Lewis’s blood on various passenger side locations and Mr. Lewis’s shoe wedged under the glove compartment.
Assistant District Attorney Merin’s questioning seemed to suggest the expert had made assumptions about the angle of the cars when they collided, often stressing that the expert was stating an opinion. ADA Merin returned to this point often, asking numerous times whether the expert could have been wrong by even one degree.
Mr. Kauderer responded that the original police inspector on the case agreed with him on the disputed angles and that Newton’s laws of motion, not speculation, grounded his analysis. He maintained that, even in a hypothetical scenario where Mr. Lewis was driving, given the direction of the forces in the collisions, there would have been no way for Mr. Lewis’s blood to end up on the parts of the car that it did.
In questioning Mr. Kauderer regarding the location of Mr. Lewis’s shoe, ADA Merin suggested that one could not put much faith in the location of objects in the car, since a pillow a witness had seen on the passenger side of the car was on the driver’s side by the end of the incident.
However, Mr. Kauderer replied, one could not know why the pillow moved over the 30-45 seconds of driving prior to the collisions, while the shoe was wedged in place after the first impact distorted the GMC’s floor pan.
Similarly, ADA Merin challenged the expert’s conclusion that Mr. Lewis climbed out the passenger window by pointing out that, at the scene of the crime, the passenger window had a piece of trim that was so delicately attached that it fell off when the truck was transported from the scene. Surely, he asked, such a piece of trim would have fallen off if Mr. Lewis got out the passenger window.
Mr. Kauderer noted that there was no evidence regarding the state of the trim prior to Mr. Lewis’s exit and no way to know why the trim was missing once the truck was in storage.
Curiously, while advancing the theory that Mr. Lewis, as the driver, had climbed out the driver side window, ADA Merin also asked whether Mr. Lewis’s blood could have gotten on the right side of the cabin while Mr. Lewis moved from the driver’s seat to climb out of the passenger window.
At the end of questioning, and in response to ADA Merin’s question about who the judge wanted to present the first closing argument, Judge Stewart reminded the prosecution that the prosecution would close first, since they have the burden of proof.
ADA Merin focused his closing argument primarily on the eye-witness testimony of the victim of the robbery, Ms. “M,” who stated at trial that she saw Mr. Wilson enter the GMC from the passenger side 30-45 seconds before the collisions.
ADA Merin also emphasized that the collision was complex, causing the passengers to shift a great amount, so one could not assume where occupants were based on the location of items or blood in the cabin.
He added that the outside of the passenger door was covered with Mr. Adsit’s blood, but that no testing was ever done on Mr. Lewis’s clothing to determine if Mr. Lewis had any of that blood on him as a result of climbing out the passenger window.
Public Defender Solis began her closing argument by reiterating that, to uphold Mr. Lewis’s conviction, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Lewis was the driver and Mr. Wilson was the passenger.
She challenged the reliability of Ms. M’s testimony, who had stated she was scared and very nervous the night of the incident. Public Defender Solis then showed a photograph of how dark the area would have been at around 5 a.m., the time of the incident.
She also added that the defense’s investigation showed Ms. M was approximately 100 feet away from the GMC truck when she allegedly saw Mr. Wilson enter the passenger side, while she had testified to being about 20 feet away.
Other witnesses had also testified that they had seen the driver of the GMC rob Ms. M before returning to the truck and driving off.
Moreover, Public Defender Solis added, when police arrived shortly after the GMC truck came to rest, Mr. Wilson was found hanging out the driver window, while Mr. Lewis was outside the car closer to the passenger side. Had Mr. Lewis been the driver and climbed out the driver window, she noted, he would have had to run around the parked cars on the street to get to the passenger side of the car.
In conclusion, she stated that the laws of physics, the presence of Mr. Lewis’s blood and shoe on the passenger side, and other witness testimony all contradicted Ms. M’s testimony and supported a finding that Mr. Wilson was the driver.
Over the defense’s objection about a violation of Mr. Lewis’s rights to a speedy disposition, Judge Stewart announced that he would make a final determination on Monday, August, 12, 2019.