LEESBURG. Va. — Prosecutors want to bring jurors in the involuntary manslaughter trial of John Miller IV to the intersection where his Jeep Cherokee struck and killed 5-month-old Tristan Schulz.
Lawyers for Miller argue jurors would be severely prejudiced by memorials to the boy which have been erected at the intersection.
In a motions hearing in Loudoun County Circuit Court, prosecutor Sean Morgan said bringing the jurors to the Lansdowne intersection of Coton Manor Drive and Riverside Parkway would help jurors visualize the eyewitness testimony of 14 people who will likely testify for the prosecution.
Eight of the witnesses will testify of Miller’s actions behind the wheel of his 2011 Jeep Cherokee.
Witness testimony disclosed in pretrial motions have provided several versions of what happened before Miller turned left from Coton Manor Drive onto Riverside Parkway, striking Schulz’s stroller and his mother, Mindy, who was seriously injured.
Testifying for the prosecution, Loudoun County Sheriff’s Deputy John McClintic, lead crash investigator in the death, acknowledged the witness accounts “did differ,” he told Judge Douglas Fleming.
McClintic told the judge the green light and walk signal sequence has been adjusted since the boy’s death, now providing a 10-second head start for pedestrians crossing Riverside Parkway.
On the day of the crash, Miller received a green light at the same time Mindy Schulz got a green light to walk across the intersection, McClintic testified.
Defense attorneys Steven Webster and Aaron Book argued that a newly erected sign reading “Drive safely in memory of Tristan Beckett Schulz,” approved by VDOT, would prejudice jurors.
Morgan suggested the sign could be covered.
“So, they put plastic bags over these, so jurors can wonder what’s under those bags,” argued Webster, who said a nearby “Adopt a Roadway” sign on Riverside Parkway also honors Tristan Schulz.
Webster argued jurors standing at the intersection would not have the same perspective Miller had, as he made a left turn onto Riverside.
“They won’t be looking at the pillar in his car, to see if his view was obstructed,” said Webster, who, in a question to McClintic, mentioned an unspecified study that determined drivers are 50 percent more likely to have an accident while making a left-hand turn.
Morgan said the visit would provide more valuable information to jurors than simply looking at crime scene photos.
Webster said a visit to the crash scene would be unwieldy.
“Who else knows who else will be on the scene? Onlookers? The media, not that I have anything against them?” said Webster.
Judge Fleming said he would issue a written order on the motions “within a day or two.”
Miller’s trial for involuntary manslaughter, reckless driving and failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk is scheduled to go on trial Oct. 10.
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