By Shady Gonzales
MODESTO, CA – Closing arguments were made Wednesday here in Stanislaus County Superior Court in the case of Manpreet Atwal, charged with murder in the second degree, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, hit and run, and two DUI charges related to a collision that occurred in January of 2017.
Deputy District Attorney Vita Palazuelos began her closing statement by citing the number of “false statements” given by Atwal following the fatal car crash and during trial should be taken into consideration, noting Atwal is guilty of the crime and knows it.
Palazuelos recalled when Atwal testified in court yesterday that he did not recall how fast he was driving on the night of the accident.
However, there has been evidence collected from the Honda automobile that reveals, said the prosecutor, Atwal was driving 97 to 99 miles per hour at the time of the crash.
This speed at which Atwal chose to drive, Palazuelos argued, reflects the gross negligence that Atwal was exhibiting as this speed is unsafe under any circumstances.
Expanding on this evidence of gross negligence, Palazuelos revealed that Atwal had decided to call his girlfriend 32 times, while driving at a high speed, in the 15 minutes leading up to the fatal accident.
DDA Palazuelos argued that this combination of actions, while it was dark outside and wet, is gross negligence.
While on stand in trial, Atwal admitted to driving the vehicle and being on his phone while driving. However, Atwal had also claimed that he consumed alcohol following the collision, after he fled the scene, not before.
However, a text message sent to Atwal’s girlfriend prior to the collision reads “idk I’m drunk love.”
Under testimony, Atwal claimed that this message was a lie in order to avoid having to pick her up from a bar and to get his girlfriend to stop contacting him about picking her up.
However, Atwal called his girlfriend multiple times leading up to the collision and she did not answer her phone nor return the calls. At one point, Atwal messaged his girlfriend: “I want to see you but you don’t want to see me.”
At another point in the night, Atwal’s girlfriend text messaged: “You can’t drive, you’re drunk.”
Palazuelos argued Atwal was not being bombarded by requests from his girlfriend to pick her up, and he was at his friend’s house prior to driving and desperate to see his girlfriend.
According to Palazuelos’ closing argument, these facts led to the conclusion that Atwal’s text message revealing that he was drunk was, in fact, not a lie.
An expert criminalist testified in trial that Atwal would have consumed eight shots of alcohol to get to the blood alcohol content he was at when breathalyzed.
Palazuelos recalled the various “lies” Atwal told to investigators following the fatal collision, including that his Honda was stolen, that he did not drink at all that night, that he was asleep at that hour, and that the lacerations on his arms were from unloading his truck.
The DDA said all of these statements from Atwal were found false during trial or he later admitted to doing these things. He specifically admitted to being in a collision and fleeing the scene without exchanging any information with the other party.
It was also revealed that Atwal had attempted to help a victim that survived the collision at the scene of the crash. This victim had been sitting next to his mother, who had died on the scene.
Palazuelos argued that while Atwal was helping the surviving victim, he may have seen that one of the other victims in the crash was not alive. This would account for his fleeing the scene abruptly and lying to the investigators.
Palazuelos concluded her closing statement by telling the jury Atwal had displayed gross negligence to human life and that there were natural and probable consequences to the actions he chose to take. She argued Atwal was definitely aware of these probable consequences as he had taken a DUI class due to his previous DUIs.
In his closing statement, defense attorney Preciliano Martinez, argued that Atwal should only be found guilty of a hit and run in a collision that resulted in great bodily injury.
Attorney Martinez argued that the case revolves around if Atwal was actually intoxicated at the time of the accident or not, as people get into car crashes daily when momentarily distracted.
Martinez argued that the prosecuting counsel eliminated the human element of the case and recalled the jury’s attention back to two separate witnesses that were either on the scene of the collision or saw Atwal driving prior to the collision.
The defense noted one of the witnesses, who was helping at the scene of the collision, had spoken to Atwal and did not notice Atwal slurring his words or stumbling around, detecting no alcohol on Atwal’s breath. He testified on stand that Atwal had been speaking clearly.
Martinez argued that if Atwal had been drinking large quantities of alcohol throughout the night, the witness would have smelled alcohol on Atwal’s breath.
The defender noted a man that saw Atwal driving on the freeway prior to the collision is a truck driver that has driven around 100,000 miles per year. This truck driver does not know Atwal and did not witness the collision on that night.
When Atwal drove past the truck driver on the night of the incident, the truck driver was driving roughly 55 miles per hour. The truck driver testified on the stand that, to him, there was nothing spectacular about Atwal’s driving on this night and he did not believe Atwal was driving at an excessive speed.
Martinez argued that a human eye is more reliable than the data provided by technology.
Martinez also recalls that Atwal had picked up his girlfriend at 1 a.m. on the night of the incident and took her to another party. Atwal testified that he returned home after taking his girlfriend to this other party.
Around 4:20 a.m. Atwal got into his car again and drove to the area where the accident occurred.
The prosecuting counsel argued that a photo, taken at a party on the night prior to the accident, of a red solo cup found in Atwal’s phone likely had alcohol in it.
Defense attorney Martinez argued in his closing statement that this photo does not meet the requirements of finding Atwal guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of driving under the influence at the time the collision occurred.
Highlighting these points, Martinez asked the jury to not find Atwal guilty of any charges except for a hit and run that resulted in injury.
In her final response to Martinez, DDA Palazuelos stated that at no point, in the testimony given by the witness who was also at the scene of the crash, did the witness directly state that he had gotten really close to Atwal during this time or that Atwal was actually the individual helping those injured in the crash.
Following the final closing arguments of both the prosecution and defense counsels, Judge Dawna Reeves gave instruction to the jury panel regarding the process of their deliberations.