Family and friends of two teenagers killed in a 2015 wreck couldn’t hold back Friday afternoon as they walked out of a Carroll County courtroom.
“What about justice?” ... “It’s a travesty.” ... “It’s not over.”
But the trial for a former Georgia state trooper accused in the fatal crash is over, at least for now. Judge John Simpson declared a mistrial for Anthony “A.J.” Scott, who was on duty in September 2015 when his patrol car collided with a sedan carrying four teens.
Simpson said prosecutors failed to turn over all evidence in the case to the defense, including where one of the teenagers killed was seated before the collision. And that violated Scott’s right to a fair trial, Simpson said.
“This behavior is inconsistent with our American legal heritage,” Simpson said. “We invented judicial review, the independent judiciary, and the modern jury trial. I believe that no person’s constitutional rights should be violated anywhere in the United States anytime, under any circumstances.”
District Attorney Herb Cranford told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution late Friday that his office will retry Scott.
“We are simply trying to get justice, which includes honoring every defendant’s constitutional rights,” Cranford said in an emailed statement.
Scott was driving 90 mph in a 55-mph zone moments before crashing into the Nissan Sentra, investigators have said. Prosecutors contend it was his reckless driving that caused the crash, particularly as Scott wasn’t responding to an emergency.
Kylie Lindsey, 17, and Isabella Chinchilla, 16, died from their injuries. Both were students at South Paulding High School.
Two others — Dillon Lewis Wall, then 18, and Benjamin Alan Finken, then 17, both of Douglasville — were critically injured, but survived. Wall, the driver, was the only teen wearing a seat belt. Though alcohol bottles were found in the Nissan, Wall did not have alcohol in his system, according to testimony.
In August 2017, Scott was indicted on two counts of second-degree vehicular homicide, two counts of serious injury by vehicle, violating oath of office and one count each of speeding and reckless driving. His trial began May 13.
On Wednesday, Scott’s attorney, Mac Pilgrim, filed a motion for a mistrial in the case — his second since the trial began.
During the prosecution’s closing statements, Pilgrim objected to dashcam video shown to jurors. The jury saw the same video during testimony, but for closing arguments, the video had an image of a speed limit sign imposed in the corner.
Simpson scolded the district attorneys for not informing the court of the altered video, but allowed the trial to continue Monday afternoon.
That night, Pilgrim said he learned of evidence in the case that prosecutors had not previously disclosed. On Tuesday, Pilgrim confirmed the information: two state troopers met with the district attorneys in March and presented a new theory in the crash.
After having the dashcam video lightened, and after reviewing other crash evidence, the troopers told prosecutors they believed Lindsey wasn’t in the backseat. Instead, the troopers believe she was in the front seat or possibly on the middle console.
Lindsey was the only teenager ejected from the Nissan, and it appears she went through the front passenger side window, according to troopers Chad Barrow and Brandon Stone. Inertia from the crash would have caused those in the Nissan to move in a front motion toward the right, Barrow and Stone said. Had Lindsey been seated behind the driver, there would have been impact from her body on the rear of the front seats, according to the investigators.
Prosecutors argued they didn’t believe the troopers’ new theory was relevant to the case. But prosecutors still should have made sure the defense knew about the new theory, Pilgrim said. Simpson agreed.
“The district attorneys do not decide what is legally relevant,” Simpson said.
Cranford said his office did release the new evidence to Scott’s defense team.
“As an office we talk about exculpatory evidence and erring on the side of turning over all evidence in our case. That is why we have an open file policy where the defense gets a copy of everything in our file,” Cranford said. “And in this case, the defense did get a copy of everything in our file. The best practice is and would have been to make sure the defense knew about the new theory the troopers had about the location of one of the victims in the car.”
Outside the courthouse, Pilgrim said Scott is relieved for now. Pilgrim said he may file a motion for a “plea in bar,” which would prevent another trial.
Sept. 26, 2015: Trooper A.J. Scott collides with a Nissan Sentra on U.S. 27 in Carroll County. Two teenagers, Kylie Hope Lindsey, 17, and Isabella Alise Chinchilla, 16, were killed in the crash. Both were students at South Paulding High School.
Oct. 2, 2015: Georgia State Patrol fires Scott after investigators determined he was driving 91 mph five seconds before the fatal crash.
Feb. 17, 2016: Grand jury fails to indict Scott. Two days later, more than 60 people gather outside the Carroll courthouse seeking justice for the two girls.
November 2016: The case is re-presented to a different grand jury, which indicts Scott on misdemeanor charges of speeding and reckless driving. However, a judge later throws out the indictment, which the district attorney’s office has appealed.
Aug. 31, 2017: Scott is indicted on two counts of vehicular homicide in the second degree, two counts of serious injury by vehicle, violating oath of office, and one count each of speeding and reckless driving.
May 13, 2019: Scott’s trial begins.
May 17: Defense requests a mistrial after prosecutors show dashcam video during closing arguments with a speed limit sign imposed in the corner.
May 20: Judge John Simpson denies the defense request for a mistrial, but says prosecutors should have advised court of the altered video.
May 22: Defense again requests a mistrial, alleging prosecutors withheld evidence about where Kylie Lindsey was sitting. Judge dismisses court.
May 24: Simpson grants a mistrial in the case.
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