Taplin jury deliberations continue

Posted: Friday, January 28, 2000

KETCHIKAN - The jury in the Joel Taplin manslaughter case began its second day of deliberations this morning, after hearing closing arguments Thursday from attorneys and instructions from the judge.

Before the work of determining Taplin's fate began Thursday afternoon, Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins told jurors their job was to determine whether Taplin recklessly caused the death of Harry Richard Carlson.

Collins then defined ``recklessness'' as a condition present when a person is ``aware of and consciously disregards a risk.''

The prosecution and defense agree the 27-year-old teacher from New England was at the wheel of his Volkswagen Jetta on Back Loop Road when it struck Carlson, an Auke Bay biologist, on July 21.

What the jury must decide, Collins said, is whether Taplin's actions were reckless and that his recklessness contributed directly to Carlson's death or was ``a substantial factor in his death.'' The judge added that Taplin's actions ``need not be the only cause.''

Should the jury conclude the ``conduct of Mr. Carlson was abnormal'' and contributed significantly to his own death, Taplin's legal responsibility would be lessened, Collins said.

During closing arguments, District Attorney Rick Svobodny said Taplin's use of an unsafe car with a damaged wheel was ``reckless conduct in and of itself.'' Further evidence of reckless behavior was shown by the fact that he drove under the influence of alcohol and lied to a police officer about his drinking after he hit Carlson.

``Again,'' Svobodny said, ``lying said it all - that he knew - that he was not a Martian (dropped unaware into the scene). He knew that if you drank alcohol it was something that affects your conduct.'' Lying proved Taplin was conscious of guilt, Svobodny said.

Furthermore, as Taplin drove along Back Loop, ``he was at a point where, because of flashing yellow lights and a pedestrian walkway, he should have been paying closer attention,'' Svobodny said. Taplin was attending the Bread Loaf writing institute at the nearby University of Alaska Southeast.

Svobodny also challenged the testimony of mechanical engineer Bahram Ravani, a defense witness who spelled out a version of the crash that suggested Carlson walked into the path of Taplin's car.

Svobodny said Ravani ``didn't have a clue'' about the real facts of the collision. ``Those might be good guesses,'' Svobodny said, ``but they are not facts.''

Summing up the prosecution's argument, Svobodny said, ``Mr. Carlson's conduct is not an excuse for the defendant's conduct. So even if he were standing in the middle of the road, the defendant had a responsibility to avoid collisions. . . . It's what we teach all our children when they are 16, when they get a driver's license.''

In his closing remarks, defense attorney Louis Menendez asked the jury to disregard a blood-alcohol test showing Taplin was intoxicated, as well as field sobriety tests because Taplin ``drove in the lines,'' and field sobriety tests ``set you up for failure.''

He criticized a police officer for not seeing his client was ``in shock.'' The officer should have conducted ``optional tests - like counting, saying the ABC's,'' Menendez said.

The defense attorney also objected to witness Alfred Mequet Jr.'s testimony that Taplin sped away from the scene, thus committing a hit-and-run.

``My client had a body flapping in his face, a windshield blown out, glass all over. He can't pull over. If he did, Mr. Carlson would go flying off the car.''

Another witness said Taplin was driving ``between the white lines,'' Menendez said, and no witnesses ``saw bad driving.''

``They don't see a drunk man listening to Hank Williams on the radio, drinking beer, swerving back and forth,'' he said. ``If I am right, you get to walk my client out of this courtroom.''

Menendez twice called the victim's actions ``jumping out'' and said, ``To find my client guilty for what Mr. Carlson's going to do is not fair.''

He characterized the state's closing argument as ``huffing and puffing.'' And he condemned the state's case as ``no case. . . . a case with no evidence . . . that applies bad law to bad facts - or facts that don't even exist.''

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