New trial denied for Knoxville deadly hit-and-run driver

New trial denied for Knoxville deadly hit-and-run driver

Posted:
Curtis Harper was denied a new trial Friday. Curtis Harper was denied a new trial Friday.
The judge did say on record that she was uncomfortable with the state showing the jurors photos of the victims prior to their death during opening and closing arguments. The judge did say on record that she was uncomfortable with the state showing the jurors photos of the victims prior to their death during opening and closing arguments.
By STEPHANIE BEECKEN
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - A judge Friday denied a motion for a new trial for a Knoxville man sentenced to 30 years for his role in a deadly hit-and-run crash in 2012.

Curtis Harper was found guilty in April 2013 on charges of vehicular homicide by reckless conduct, vehicular homicide by intoxication, driving under the influence, tampering with evidence, reckless endangerment, and leaving the scene of an accident.

Previous story: Curtis Harper sentenced to 30 years in prison for hit-and-run accident

The conviction stemmed from an accident on Washington Pike in late May of 2012.

In that accident, Chasity Thornell and a friend pulled over because the car ran out of gas. Neighbor Nelzon Soto gave them gas and as he and Thornell embraced, Harper struck them while driving drunk, killing both Soto and Thornell as well as her unborn child.

Previous story: Knoxville hit-and-run suspect located after deaths of 2 adults, unborn child

Harper's attorney, Alex Little, called three witnesses to the stand to clarify statements they made during the original trial.

Little told the judge Harper was entitled to a new trial saying the jurors gave a verdict based on emotion and that there were flaws and misconduct during the trial. These were statements the state strongly disagreed with.

It's been almost a year since Curtis Harper's been in court. Harper’s hair was longer and he had a new attorney representing him. Little said the original trial was flawed and that the jurors were biased.

“A third juror considered him guilty unless he presented a case for his innocence,” said Little.

Little told the judge the jurors were exposed to too much pretrial coverage and that showing photos of the victims when they were alive during opening and closing argument prejudiced the jury. He said many of the crime scene photos were too graphic and caused the jurors to have a vengeful attitude.

“Eleven photographs of the unborn child and it's placenta none of which had any relevance to any fact this jury has been asked to determine,” said Little.

Prosecutor Sarah Keith said there were no errors in the case. The photos were relevant to show what happened.

“The defendant’s position in this trial is solely the result of his conduct and if they don't feel like it was a good position to be in, the defendant has no one else to blame. Those were his actions and the scene he created,” said Keith.

The judge denied the motion for a new trial saying the jurors agreed to obey the instructions. She went on to say the photos did not deprive Harper of a fair trial and allowed the state to make its case.

“We feel like justice was done, correct decisions were made at the trial and at the motion for a new trial,” said Keith.

The judge did say on record that she was uncomfortable with the state showing the jurors photos of the victims prior to their death during opening and closing arguments. The judge added that it was not enough to be very influential though given the large amount of evidence.

The defense attorney says he will be filing an appeal within the next couple months.

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