Attorneys wrap up case in Doneghy trial

investigator calls crash an accident; Closing Arguments expected today

jkegley@herald-leader.comJune 29, 2011 

Two days after the murder trial against Glenn Doneghy was scheduled to end, attorneys rested their cases.

Most of Tuesday's testimony came from former state police trooper Sonny Cease, who was hired by the defense to investigate the crash that killed Lexington police officer Bryan Durman last year.

Cease echoed several major points that Doneghy's defense attorneys have made from the start — including that the street on which Durman was hit and killed was very dark and that there is no evidence the driver of the SUV hit Durman intentionally.

Doneghy, 34, is accused of murder in Durman's death. He is on trial in Fayette Circuit Court. Cease is a former state police trooper best known for being the lead inv estigator of the 1988 Carrollton bus crash in which 27 people died. He told jurors he has investigated 3,000 crashes and testified in about 60 court cases.

Cease, who retired from the state police as a major, now owns and operates Traffic Collision Reconstruction Analysis LLC, a private crash-investigation firm. He said Doneghy had compensated him for his report.

In response to questioning from Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson, Cease said he has made about $14,000 from investigating the case. His going rate is $150 an hour of investigation and $200 an hour of testimony, he said.

On Tuesday, Cease showed jurors dark photos of the scene of the crash on North Limestone. On one, he drew arrows pointing to the nearest street lamp, which was "some 37 feet south of the approximate area of impact, which in my opinion was insufficient."

Cease said he could not conduct tests of the actual lighting because the street lamp bulbs had been replaced by the time he was hired.

Cease also noted that the lane in which Durman was standing was about a foot narrower than the other travel lane. The 34-foot width of the road encompasses four lanes — two for parking and two for travel.

Durman, 27, was standing inside the open door of a parked car, facing the travel lanes of North Limestone, when he was hit. Durman had approached the vehicle to investigate a noise complaint.

Cease said that the open passenger door extended to within 2 inches of the center line and that Durman was standing about 28 inches from the edge of the parked car — well in the left travel lane.

Larson noted that the driver had another lane, which witnesses have said was empty of traffic, he could have gone into to avoid the officer. Cease acknowledged there was a lane to the right of the moving car.

Investigators for both sides noted a scratch on the pillar between the front and back doors of the parked car. Cease said that scratch was caused by the side mirror of the moving SUV, which indicate that the moving car approached the parked car at a narrower angle than prosecutors have said.

Richard Parkos, a state police investigator for the prosecution, testified Monday that Doneghy's SUV, a maroon Chevy Tahoe, approached the parked car at a 10- to 12-degree angle, indicating a more radical shift toward the officer. Parkos said the scratch on the pillar was too high to have been caused by a side mirror and was unrelated to the crash.

Cease said the scratch was level with Doneghy's mirror, indicating he came in at a "relatively parallel" 2- to 4-degree angle, which would indicate the crash was a sideswipe rather than an intentional swerve.

Cease said the pattern of debris at the scene indicated that the driver of the Tahoe tried to steer away from the crash within a half-second of the crash. Witnesses for the prosecution have said the driver held the car on a leftward course, indicating he expected to hit the officer.

"I think the physical evidence shows it's certainly not an intentional act. It's a very, very tragic collision, but I don't think it's intentional at all," Cease said. "I think it could have been any of us."

During cross-examination, Larson compared two reports submitted by Cease. The first report repeatedly referred to Doneghy as the driver of the Tahoe. A report submitted later had taken out any reference to Doneghy as the driver.

Cease said he changed the report after defense attorney Kate Dunn told him information came out that Doneghy might not have been driving the car. In March, attorneys received word that a woman nicknamed "Juicy" had been videotaped admitting she hit the officer.

"Is it your practice in your professional capacity to change reports pursuant to the request of the person who's paying you $14,000?" Larson asked Cease.

"I didn't change it pursuant to anyone's request. I changed it in the anticipation or the hopes of trying to be accurate," he said.

Several other defense witnesses took the stand Tuesday, including two workers from a Russell Cave Road gas station who said Doneghy came into the store the morning of the crash. With him was Melanie "Juicy" White, a former prostitute who once claimed she had been driving the car that killed Durman.

During White's testimony last week, she said that she has a tendency to lie to get attention and that she was asleep, coming down from a crack-cocaine binge, the day of the wreck. However, Howard Mays and Terry Stewart, who were employed at the station, said Doneghy and White were together about 10 a.m. April 29, 2010, about 12 hours before the crash.

Mays said he remembered White because of the word "Juicy" tattooed on her neck and because she was wearing "really skimpy shorts, to the point where stuff was hanging out."

Mays and Stewart said Doneghy and the woman bought beer, cigarettes and chips.

It's unclear whether surveillance video of that encounter exists. When asked by attorneys whether Doneghy looks the same as he did that day, Mays said he looked the same, although Doneghy has gained about 50 pounds since the day of the crash.

The trial resumes at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Closing arguments are expected to be presented, then the case will go to the jury.

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