NEW PORT RICHEY — Attorneys in the double DUI-manslaughter case of Shannon Stephen laid out their cases for jurors Friday as the weeklong trial wound to a close.
To prosecutors, it's a matter of common sense applied to strong circumstantial evidence. To the defense, it's a case lacking any eyewitness proof.
The six-member jury will return to the courthouse today to begin deliberations.
Stephen, 38, of Holiday is accused of driving into two people after a night of drinking on March 26, 2006. Joseph Swiech and Sarah Gleason, a couple who planned to marry, were walking along Grand Boulevard when Stephen's truck struck them and then was driven off.
Swiech, 26, died instantly. Gleason, 24, was taken to a hospital where she later died.
No one could identify Stephen as the driver behind the wheel when the couple was struck. But prosecutors put on witnesses who saw him right before — the friends he had been drinking with who said he became belligerent and insisted on driving himself. And the jury heard from witnesses who saw him right after the crash — the victims' friends who said they pulled a staggering, drunken Stephen from the driver's seat of his damaged truck about a mile from where the couple were hit.
Hours after the crash, authorities said, Stephen's blood-alcohol level measured three times the threshold for a DUI arrest.
"There is no other reasonable explanation as to what happened that night," Assistant State Attorney Bryan Sarabia said in his closing argument. "The defendant got in that vehicle …and kept on going until he had mowed down Joe Swiech and Sarah Gleason. And after he did so, he didn't stay on the scene."
But defense attorney Kenneth Foote said the state's case was full of reasonable doubt, and he hammered to jurors that no one saw his client behind the wheel that night.
"There's no evidence that he was driving that vehicle," Foote said.
He said the more likely culprit was Stephen's friend Jim Wallace, who called his wife at the same time as the crash and left a voice mail saying, "Something happened. You need to call me."
Foote said Wallace made a total of 14 calls that night.
"That's a coincidence?" Foote told the jury. "That's what the state wants you to believe."
Stephen, he said, made no calls that night.
The state presented evidence from cell phone towers indicating Wallace was at home when he called his wife and then went to the crash scene to check on his friend.
Stephen faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted of two counts of DUI-manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident involving death. He went to trial once already in this case, in 2008, but it ended with a deadlocked jury.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6245.