LANCASTER, N.H. -- The driver of a car involved in a fatal crash was found not guilty of vehicular assault this week after an expert witness was unable to testify. Brandon Newton, 17, was killed last summer in a car crash on a Lancaster road last summer. His close friend, Emily Ridley, was driving the car.
"The car hit the embankment and was airborne for between 15 and 20 feet before it struck the pavement," said Becky Newton, Brandon Newton's mother. Prosecutors filed a misdemeanor vehicular assault charge against Ridley, and the case went to trial in Littleton, N.H. It ended with a guilty verdict, but lawyers appealed and were granted another trial.
Prosecutors relied on state police Sgt. Todd Cohen for testimony. "He was the lead investigator," Becky Newton said. "He was the technical accident reconstructionist, and he was an expert."
Prosecutors expected him at the appeal this week, but Cohen clipped two bicyclists with his cruiser last week in Jefferson, N.H., throwing the prosecution into a tailspin. "I knew it was a disaster when I saw on the news on Thursday night that he had his own accident," Becky Newton said.
The prosecutor asked a judge at Coos County Superior Court to delay the trial because Cohen was unable to appear following the accident. But after communication between the prosecutor, the defense and the judge, the trial started.
Without Cohen's testimony, Ridley was acquitted. "I understand both sides," said prosecutor Keith Clouatre. "I'm incredibly disappointed in Trooper Cohen not coming in."
"We had a pretty good idea of what the outcome would be," Becky Newton said. "That it would be difficult -- if not impossible -- for us to get a conviction." Defense attorney said that Cohen's testimony wouldn't have changed the verdict, but Clouatre said the testimony was vital.
State police said they worked to meet the requirements of the hearing, providing paperwork to prosecutors to help them delay the trial, but Clouatre said the trial had already started. Clouatre said he had an opportunity to force Cohen into court to testify, but he said he didn't think it was in Cohen's best interest. Yah, it is always good to let a killer go free.