ANCHORAGE - A jury must decide whether a woman who may have had as many as 18 drinks before getting behind the wheel of her sport utility vehicle and plowing into a small car is guilty of second-degree murder.
Lori Phillips, 56, of Anchorage, is accused in the 2009 death of Louis Clement, 23, who was out for a drive with his fiancee when Phillips' SUV crashed head-on into their small car. The SUV was going the wrong way on a major road during rush hour.
She also is charged with assault, driving under the influence, driving with a revoked license and reckless driving.
The main issue is whether Phillips - who has been charged five times with driving under the influence - showed an extreme indifference to human life when she chose to get into her SUV after her afternoon salon appointment, instead of accepting a ride or calling a cab.
Phillips had repeatedly been warned about the dangers of drunken driving and knew that she was driving on a revoked license that evening, prosecutor Clint Campion said in closing arguments.
She disregarded the advice of her longtime hairdresser who tried to take her car keys and offered to call her a cab or find someone to pick her up, Campion said.
"She ignored those warnings because she didn't care," Campion said. "The only thing that Lori Phillips cared about that day was going home."
According to prosecutors, Phillips' blood-alcohol level was more than four times the legal limit. Phillips was out on bail on a DUI charge from earlier in the year when she allegedly drank huge amounts of alcohol before driving about 10 miles toward her home in south Anchorage.
Prosecutors said she was traveling the speed limit and there was no evidence she applied the brakes at the time of the crash. Clement likely died instantly, and his fiancee, Joyua Stovall, was in a coma for three months and hospitalized for more than half a year.
During his closing argument in Superior Court, Campion used an overhead projector to show the jury photos of the severely crumpled red sedan. The impact forced the car's engine into the passenger compartment.
"She drove right through Louis Clement," Campion said. "She murdered Louis Clement."
Phillips' lawyer Rex Butler said no one saw Phillips drinking copious amounts of alcohol before the accident. People at the salon did not report she smelled like alcohol and her coffee cup smelled like coffee, not alcohol, he said.
When she entered the salon after a two-year absence, people noticed that she'd lost weight and didn't look well, Butler said. Someone suggested she might be having a stroke, he said.
Butler said it's "very unlikely" that Phillips could have guzzled more than a dozen drinks right before walking into the salon. He asked jurors to use their common sense.
"There is something else going on here," Butler said, pointing to abnormal medical test results showing too few red blood cells and perhaps a clotting problem on blood screening after the accident. "I submit to you that she was sick."
Any health problems that Phillips is experiencing are due to long-term alcohol abuse and not some mystery illness, Campion argued.
"What was going on is that Lori Phillips is an experienced drinker," he said.
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