Last week, Connie Gates of Cedar Rapids (Iowa) went on trial for vehicular manslaughter regarding an incident that occurred in March of this year.  The case began on Monday, the prosecution and defense both rested on Tuesday, and the jury reached a guilty verdict on Wednesday, after less than three hours of deliberation.

Rarely have I seen a case that gave the prosecution such a strong chance to win.  When they told the story on the news, you kept thinking “this can’t get any worse” – but then it would.

On the night in question, Connie Gates was driving a vehicle that struck a taxi driven by 76 year old  Richard Dankert.  Dankert died from his injuries.  Gates was apprehended at the scene, quashing any doubt about who was behind the wheel.

At the time of the accident, Ms. Gates was attempting to elude police when she ran a red light and struck Mr. Dankert’s taxi.

Why, exactly, was she trying to elude the police?  Probably because the Dodge Neon she was driving was a stolen vehicle.  Or perhaps it was the fact that she was under the influence of crack cocaine at the time.

How do we know that Ms. Gates was under the influence of crack at the time?  Well, perhaps the most damning evidence to support the allegation is her videotaped admission of that fact.  Then, of course, were the results of the drug screen.  Although, to be fair, the drug screen was unable to determine the concentration of crack in Ms. Gates’ system.  They were only able to determine that it was beyond the maximum that could be measured by the machine.

How, exactly, did the defense attorney react to this evidence?  Well, after the prosecution rested its case on Tuesday, the defense also rested its case – without calling a single witness.

The defense hung its hopes on the allegation that the collision was an accident that was nobody’s fault.

Not surprising, the prosecution (as well as the jury and most reasonable people) disagreed.  To suggest that this was simply an unfortunate accident seemed ludicrous, considering that Gates was under the influence of drugs, was attempting to elude police, and also ran a red light immediately before the accident.  If you assign blame for Mr. Dankert’s death, clearly Ms. Gates is at fault.  If Dankert had been the one to run the red light, this argument would have held a bit more water – but with Gates making poor decisions at nearly every possible opportunity, the blame lands squarely on her shoulders.

The strength of the evidence, coupled with the  minimal defense, makes me wonder if Gates was forced to roll the dice with a trial because of the prosecutor’s unwillingness to offer a plea deal.  After all, the prosecution had very little to gain, and a plea deal in this case could have been unpopular with the citizens.  Perhaps Gates could have lessened her possible sentence by immediately taking blame, reaching out to Dankert’s family, and pleading guilty to the crime – throwing herself on the mercy of the court.

Gates will be sentenced on August 13.  She faces 25 years for the charge of vehicular homicide involving a controlled substance and 10 years for a charge of eluding police.  Gates also faces prison time for the lesser charges of operating a vehicle without consent and possession of a controlled substance.