CATEGORY: Courts

AUTHOR: MOULDE

Appeals court upholds conviction in Oxford traffic deaths

By Philip Moulden

Daily Journal

OXFORD - A former University of Mississippi student convicted of two counts of manslaughter following a 1991 car crash in Oxford has reported to Lafayette County Jail to begin serving an eight-year sentence.

Sheriff Buddy East said Shelley L. Wade turned herself in after the state Court of Appeals in Jackson upheld her conviction earlier in the day.

Wade will remain in the jail until state Department of Corrections officials transport her to a state detention facility, East said.

Wade, now 24, of Ocean Springs was the driver of a car that collided head on with another vehicle on Hathorn Road in Oxford the night of Jan. 26, 1991, court records show.

Wade's roommate and passenger in her car, Susan "Shelly" Hull, also of Ocean Springs, was killed, as was the driver of the other car, Scott Tallant of Oxford. The collision occurred in Tallant's lane, police said.

Officers testified they saw beer cans and a vodka bottle in Wade's car, and a subsequent blood test showed her blood alcohol level at 0.20 percent, twice the legal limit to conclude drunken driving.

After conviction, Wade was sentenced to 15 years in prison on each count, to run concurrently. Seven years were suspended. She could be eligible for parole in about two years.

The Court of Appeals rejected Wade's challenges to her conviction, including whether the court should have admitted the blood alcohol evidence, whether a juror withheld pertinent information about herself and later tainted deliberations, whether a policeman was improperly qualified as an expert witness, and whether the court erred in not granting a mistrial based on an alleged improper closing statement by a prosecutor.

Although the blood alcohol sample was taken without permission from an unconscious Wade, it fell sufficiently within the scope of probable cause, the appeals court ruled.

The court also found the defense failed to follow up on questions posed to the challenged juror and that a juror's personal feelings could not be excluded from deliberations.

It also found an officer testifying as an expert on accident reconstruction was highly trained, and did no harm to the defense even if he should not have been qualified as an expert.

It also ruled the prosecution's closing argument was not improper and did not constitute grounds for a mistrial.

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