Former Mesa student to stand trial in death of Mesa student
April 17, 2007
Filed under News
Former Mesa student Eric Joseph Leeman will stand trial on charges of murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and hit-and-run in the death of 19-year-old Mesa student Whitney Young.
Leeman faces a maximum of 15 years to life in prison if convicted.
His defense attorney believes the charges are unwarranted.
“It was an unfortunate accident that has ruined two lives, Ms. Young’s and Mr. Leeman’s,” said Roseline Feral, Leeman’s defense attorney. “Mr. Leeman should not be charged with murder because his driving was not done ‘in wanton disregard for human life’ that the caselaw requires for a murder.”
During the preliminary hearing Young’s best friend, Danielle Wagoner, testified that her and Young had been at a party on the night of Nov. 12, 2006 and were walking home with some friends when Young was struck by a car on Montezuma Road, according to 10news.com.
“Ms. Young’s group … put itself in harm’s way by crossing the intersection in a diagonal manner,” Feral said. “I don’t think any other driver could have seen or been able to avoid the accident.”
According to 10news.com, Leeman told police that he had reached down to get his cell phone right before the collision. He thought he had hit something but saw nothing when he looked in his rear-view mirror.
Deputy District Attorney Allison Worden accused Leeman of being drunk during the time of the hit-and-run. According to Worden, Leeman had one prior DUI conviction.
“In most situations where second degree murder is charged, the driver usually has a long history of at least three or four Driving Under the Influence convictions and would have been warned by the court of the possibility of being charged with second degree murder if they continue to drink,” Feral said. “This is not the case with Mr. Leeman.”
According to signonsandiego.com, witnesses took the stand testifying that Leeman had been drinking alcohol at a party on the night of the accident. A 16-year-old girl testified that she saw Leeman fighting with a man at the party and that Leeman appeared to be drunk.
“He acted like he was drunk,” the witness was quoted in a 10news.com article. “Most of the time, you can tell if someone is drunk.”
Leeman never denied involvement in the crash, but claims he thought he had hit an animal. He denies being drunk on the night of the hit-and-run.
Leeman was arrested four days after the accident when a police officer saw his car parked in a driveway. The damage to the car matched car parts left at the scene. Young died hours later from severe brain trauma.
Leeman was originally charged with felony hit-and-run and faced a maximum of four years in prison but the prosecution felt they had enough evidence for more serious charges.
“As far as an outcome in this case, I would hope that the prosecution will realize that this is not the appropriate case for second degree murder,” Feral said.
Young and Leeman both attended Mesa College. Young was planning to transfer to San Diego State University to become a teacher. Leeman was a student in Professor Diane Barbolla’s Cultural Anthropology class two years ago.
“Much has been made about the fact that the young man who has been charged with the hit and run, Eric Leeman, was a former Mesa student,” said Mesa President Rita Cepeda.
“The coincidence may make for interesting press but it has nothing to do with the fact that loss of life, loss of freedom, loss of human potential and the ripple effect of tragedy on the lives to two families is immeasurable.”
Leeman waived his right to a trial in 60 days. The judge ordered that the trial begin in the first week of September