Leeman pleads not guilty

Leeman pleads not guilty

Janna Braun

Eric Joseph Leeman posted this picture on his MySpace.com page. He referred to himself as "Steamin' Leeman" and a "drunken idiot at a party."

Sean Campbell

On his MySpace.com page he called himself “Steamin’ Leeman.” He had photos of himself apparently partying with his friends and drinking what appeared to be alcoholic beverages.

Eric Joseph Leeman, a 20-year-old College Area resident, stated on the public Web site that “Drinking and smoking is always great. I’m a laid back kind of guy who’s enjoyin’ the crazy college lifestyle. Most people know me as a die hard Bay area sports fan or a drunken idiot at a party.”

But on the MySpace.com page, he failed to mention that he had a prior DUI.

Leeman was led into a San Diego Superior Court Nov. 20 wearing handcuffs, blue county jail garb and jail-issued flip flops. He had been arrested early Nov. 16, as a hit-and-run suspect, supposedly striking and fatally wounding Mesa student Whitney Young while apparently driving to his San Diego State University area residence at 3:15 a.m. on Nov. 13. He also allegedly fled the scene.

While in custody he had refused bail, choosing to remain in custody, according to his defense attorney, Roseline Feral. She said that the tragic events had weighed deeply on Leeman’s conscious, which was reason for his refusal to post bail.

“I think that is a major character trait that the court should consider,” Feral said at the arraignment.

Leeman pleaded not guilty to charges of hit-and-run that resulted in the death of 19-year-old Mesa student Whitney Young. His defense attorney said that he had admitted to driving the car and hitting something the morning in question, but that he thought he had hit an animal.

Judge David M. Szumowski set a preliminary hearing for Jan. 11, 2007. Afterwards, attorneys presented evidence to the judge, debating on whether or not Leeman was a flight risk and on what the set bail should be.

Deputy District Attorney Allison Worden asked for bail to be raised from $200,000 to $500,000, sighting the defendant’s prior DUI as one reason for the bail hike. She also said that Leeman had admitted discovering that he possibly had hit Young sometime Monday, the day after the incident, and that the district attorney had reason to believe that he might have been planning to flee.

“We have information that suggests that Mr. Leeman was going to flee to Arizona on Tuesday after the crime,” Worden said. “This was after he’d acknowledged that he knew that he had struck Miss Young.”

She stated that it would be easy for Leeman to leave because he doesn’t have many connections tying him down in San Diego.

Feral said that the fleeing allegations were unfounded. She said that if Leeman was going to flee he would have, pointing out that his behavior contradicted the deputy district attorney’s allegations.

According to Feral, he had not bought plane tickets or made repairs to his car. She pointed out that he had had access to a garage and could have hid his damaged car but instead chose to leave it outside. Even his roommates, she said, saw nothing in his actions that hinted he was going to flee. She insisted that the $200,000 bail was sufficient.

“This isn’t the kind of kid who’s not going to come back and face the consequences,” she said.

Szumowski decided to raise Leeman’s bail to $300,000.

Leeman never did turn himself over to authorities, even three days after the attorneys say he admitted he realized he had struck Young. Instead, he was apprehended by police when they matched car parts left behind at the scene of the crime with his BMW.

Feral said there was heavy fog the morning of the incident and also, for the first time in a while, there was a light rain. She also pointed out the curves on Montezuma Road made it accident prone. According to Feral, Leeman might not have known he hit Young.

“He may actually not have seen the victim, Ms. Young,” Feral said. “From just his character, he would not be the type to not have stopped had he had the awareness that he had hit a human.”

Worden said that four friends were crossing the road with Young in an unmarked pedestrian crosswalk. Young was lagging behind, according to the deputy district attorney, and witnesses said they heard the car accelerate and saw its lights before it struck her.

“Witness statements suggest that the car never braked nor stopped,” Worden said. “She was struck by the vehicle, the vehicle kept going.”

In the court room at the arraignment, family and friends of Leeman attended to support him.

Leeman was believed to be a SDSU student but the college has since denied that he is currently enrolled, or has ever been enrolled at the school, according to the Director of Media Relations at SDSU, Jason Foster.

Leeman’s preliminary hearing will take place on Jan. 11, 2007.