A Lexington man was found guilty Thursday of fleeing the scene of a crash that killed a University of Kentucky freshman.
Shannon Houser, 37, struck Connie Blount, 18, with his pickup in the early morning of April 13. Blount, who investigators have said crossed Broadway against the light, had knelt down in the street, according to testimony.
A Fayette County jury found Houser guilty of attempting to tamper with evidence, and not guilty of marijuana possession. Later Thursday, the jury unanimously recommended that Houser be sentenced to five years for the tampering charge and one year for leaving the scene of an accident. Judge James Ishmael set the sentencing hearing for March 6.
Earlier, during closing arguments, a prosecutor said Houser's claim that he did not know he hit anyone made no sense.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Cynthia Rieker said Houser ran Blount over. She said her hair was in numerous places, including the car's grill and back bumper. Blood was on a back tire. A reasonable person would have stopped to see whether he or she had hit anything, Rieker said.
"Why does a person leave the scene except to hide the evidence?" she said.
But Houser's lawyer, Ed Dove, said there's no evidence proving Houser intended to commit a crime.
He pointed out that Houser was not on trial for murder. And he reminded jurors that it was dark and rainy that night, and Blount was kneeling in the road.
Police have said that Houser removed the grill and bumper of his truck. But Dove said that's not proof he was concealing anything, noting that Houser did not wash the truck or try to hide the bumper.
"He didn't hide anything," he said. "Didn't alter anything. Didn't destroy anything. Didn't do anything."
Dove accused prosecutors of exploiting juror's emotions. Prosecutors couldn't charge Houser with murder and wanted the jury to do their dirty work, he argued.
"They want your passions against Mr. Houser to rise," Dove said.
After the jury's sentencing recommendation, Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson said that to charge Houser with murder would have required police to prove how he was driving before the accident. Police "could not answer that question," Larson said.
In the sentencing phase, prosecutors focused on Houser's criminal record, including cocaine possession, reckless homicide, drunken driving, domestic violence and harassment.
Houser testified in his own defense. Larson asked Houser whether he wasn't "the reason we're here" at the trial.
"I don't know if it's fair to put that solely on me," he said.
Houser has gotten in trouble five times with the law, and each time he got probation, Larson told jurors. He asked them not to give Houser a "sixth second chance."
Connie Blount's father, Jack, testified that his daughter's death has caused the family significant pain. He said he spent many weekends going to horse shows with his daughter, a freshman who was studying equestrian science. He called her his best friend.
"The last 298 days have been the worst 298 days of my life," Blount said.
Houser has his own 11-year-old daughter. He testified that he felt terrible for the wreck.
"Don't believe I don't fully appreciate what that man is going through because I have my own daughter," he said.
As jurors deliberated, Houser's mother, Donna Hoyt, faulted the judge for prohibiting the defense from telling jurors that Connie Blount was intoxicated. Hoyt said it's not fair to blame her son for the accident.
"My son had done been crucified," she said.