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Former NFL and Storm player Darion Conner convicted again of DUI homicide

TAMPA — Jurors found former NFL and Tampa Bay Storm linebacker Darion Conner guilty of DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide again Thursday.

He had heard an identical verdict for the same crimes four years ago. As Conner heard the outcome, he shook his head solemnly in resignation.

Conner, 41, played seven years in the NFL and five years for the Storm. He was convicted of the same charges in 2005, but an appeals court ordered a retrial because jurors saw a bloody picture of the victim.

Conner drove a Toyota Landcruiser that hit bicyclist Jonathan Michael Conklin on Sept. 4, 2004. Witnesses said Conner's sport utility vehicle swerved erratically on Linebaugh Avenue before he struck the 32-year-old bicyclist.

Conner's blood alcohol level was 0.27, more than three times the point at which the law presumes a driver is impaired.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled the prosecution hadn't established the relevancy of a photo showing Conklin face down in a pool of blood during the first trial.

Even without the photo, it took a jury of five men and one woman just about an hour to reach the same conclusion. He could get a 15-year sentence.

Prosecutor Matt Smith's case hinged on three eyewitnesses who saw Conner swerve multiple times into the bike lane after leaving a restaurant.

"They were scared of what was going to happen," Smith said, "and what they were scared of happening did happen."

Jurors saw videotape of Conner's arrest in which he rambled about having just driven on Interstate 85, which runs from Virginia to Alabama.

They heard the arresting deputy say Conner messed up the alphabet during a field test.

Conner's attorneys argued that the witness accounts weren't reliable because of a poorly lit intersection. They said a Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy made so many mistakes that prosecutors had to hire an accident reconstruction expert. They said a deputy rode around with Conner's blood sample for hours.

None of the witnesses saw the collision, they said.

Defense attorney Lisa McLean wanted jurors to consider reckless driving and driving under the influence. But Smith said Conner had to be tied to Conklin's death.

"The most horrifying thing about the whole case is that there are no tire marks before the accident," the prosecutor told jurors. "He never even saw Mr. Conklin. Why? Because he's speeding and he was driving — not impaired but drunk."

Conner had been convicted of four prior DUIs.

From 1990 to 1997, he played 114 NFL games for the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles. He was the highest NFL draft pick in Storm history.

The judge ordered that Conner held without bail until his April 30 sentencing.

Former NFL and Storm player Darion Conner convicted again of DUI homicide 04/09/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 10, 2009 12:10am]
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