Witness stories differ about Curtis Harper's sobriety

Witness stories differ about Curtis Harper's sobriety on night of hit-and-run

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Curtis Harper awaits the being of testimony on Thursday, the fourth day of his trial. Curtis Harper awaits the being of testimony on Thursday, the fourth day of his trial.

By SAMANTHA MANNING
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The state rested its case Friday afternoon and the defense started its own case in the trial of the man accused in the hit-and-run deaths of a Knoxville woman, her unborn child, and a man who had just helped her when she ran out of gas.

When the trial first resumed Friday morning, Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz read a statement to the jury telling them Thornell's purse contained drug paraphernalia and crushed pills.

Before prosecutors wrapped up their case, they put people on the stand who were with Harper before or shortly after the deadly wreck that killed Chasity Thornell, Nelzon Soto and Thornell's unborn child were killed last year.

Allen Nida was Harper's roommate for two-and-a-half years. He told jurors Harper had "a sense of tension in his voice" after coming home the night of the crash.

Nida testified he talked to Harper that night on the phone, with Harper telling him, "I'm not sober."

"He said he thought he had been in an accident, thought there may have been some people there," Nida told jurors.

Though Harper admitted being drunk, Nida says he also said, "Guys can have eight or nine drinks and be alright to drive."

When asked if Harper was drunk, Nida answered, "From his mannerisms and slurred speech, I felt reasonably, yes, he was."

In cross examination, the defense reminded Nida he told police after the crash he didn't know whether Harper was drunk.

A friend of Harper's, Elizabeth Stanford, was brought to the stand next. She said she saw Harper shortly after the wreck.

In emotional testimony, Stanford said Harper admitted his involvement, telling her, "I hit somebody. I hit like a person."

She said Harper spoke of telling his parents he hit a deer and wanted to take his car to North Carolina to be repaired.

"I can drink more than everybody else. I can handle it," Stanford said, quoting Harper.

Another friend, Leslie Davis, told jurors Harper asked a friend to take anything "unsavory" out of his SUV. Several beer cans and bottle tops were removed.

Bradley Jones, who also said he was a friend of Harper's, told jurors he tried to get Harper to turn himself in to police.

Jones said Harper "was very upset, crying, visibly shaking."

Harper eventually did turn himself in.

Harper is accused of hitting them while driving drunk and then leaving the scene. He is on trial for several charges, including three counts of vehicular homicide, three counts of vehicular homicide by intoxication, driving under the influence, tampering with evidence, reckless endangerment, leaving the scene of an accident and DUI second offense.

Once prosecutors completed their presentation of evidence, the defense made a motion to acquit Curtis Harper on the basis of a lack of evidence, but that motion was denied and the trial resumed.

As Harper's attorneys began presenting his defense, four people took the stand who said they were with him the night of the wreck and he did not appear to be intoxicated.

Matthew McGee, who described himself as Harper's "casual friend," said he was with Harper at The Hill, a bar near the University of Tennessee campus.

"I never saw him drink anything at all," McGee told jurors of their time that night at The Hill.

"He seemed cheerful, sober. His speech was fully normal," McGee said.

When questioned by the prosecution, McGee said he was not with Harper the entire night.

Ryan Blevins said he was with McGee and Harper for about an hour that night. He also said Harper did not drink.

"I never saw him drink anything," Blevins said.

A third defense witness, Chase Stubbs, backed up the testimony of the others saying that Harper was sober.

"There was no question in my mind he was sober, Stubbs said. "He was acting normal."

The final witness of the day was Micah Hamilton. She echoed what the previous three had said, saying, "there's no question at all" Harper was sober when he left The Hill.

During cross examination, prosecutors repeatedly pointed out the witnesses do not know what Harper did after he left The Hill.

The defense will call more witnesses on Monday when the trial resumes.

Attorneys said Harper has not yet decided whether he will take the stand in his own defense.

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