Concord — March 17, 2010 — Jurors in Erica Blizzard’s negligent homicide trial deliberated about seven hours yesterday without reaching a verdict and indicated they are having trouble reaching one.
About 3 p.m., after five hours of deliberation, jurors asked Belknap County Superior Court Judge Kathleen McGuire what to do if they could not reach a verdict. She told them the court would declare the case a mistrial and that it could be tried again. She urged them to continue talking with one another but not to agree to a verdict they did not believe in.
When jurors still hadn’t reached a verdict by 4:30 p.m., the court’s closing time, they told the court they’d like to return tomorrow and continue deliberating. Jurors are not deliberating today [Wednesday] because one of them has a commitment he could not reschedule. (Jurors were told before the case started it would last three to four days and be resolved by now.)
“I know you’ve worked very hard today,” McGuire told the jury. ” (Taking a day off from deliberations) is going to put . . . a great responsibility on you to protect yourself from any outside influence about this case. Be sure that you do not expose yourself to any media accounts about this case.”
There was no indication yesterday whether jurors were stuck on one, two or all three of the charges against Blizzard, 36, of Laconia. She is charged with two counts of negligent homicide for the 2008 boat crash that killed one friend, 34-year-old Stephanie Beaudoin, and badly injured another friend, 36-year-old Nicole Shinopulos.
One of the charges alleges she was intoxicated; the other alleges she crashed because she failed to keep a proper lookout. She is also charged with aggravated driving while intoxicated for the injuries Shinopulos suffered.
Jurors heard about six days of testimony, much of it focused on Blizzard’s alcohol consumption before the crash and her speed at the time of the crash.
Yesterday morning, jurors also asked whether someone with a blood-alcohol level above 0.08, the legal limit, was necessarily impaired. Jurors were told that Blizzard’s blood alcohol level was evidence at the trial but that they should consider all evidence.
If other evidence contradicted the presumption of impairment, they were told, they did not have to find her impaired.
Blizzard has never disputed she was piloting her 37-foot high performance boat on Lake Winnipesaukee when she slammed into Diamond Island at 2:30 a.m. on June 15, 2008.
But Blizzard has adamantly disputed allegations she was intoxicated at the time or failing to keep a proper lookout. Blizzard and other witnesses testified that she consumed 3½ mixed drinks with an appetizer and supper over about five hours before hitting Diamond Island.
Her blood alcohol level two hours after the crash registered 0.15, nearly twice the legal limit. The state’s toxicologist testified she believed it possible that Blizzard’s blood alcohol level at the time of the crash could have been as high as 0.19.
The defense countered that testimony with their own toxicologist, Dr. JoAnn Samson, who told jurors Blizzard’s 0.15 test result was falsely high because she lost blood from the crash. The alcohol in her system, therefore, was concentrated in the blood remaining in Blizzard’s body, Samson said.
Blizzard took the stand in her own defense Monday, telling jurors the crash was an accident caused by a storm that caught Blizzard and her passengers by surprise. She said she used precautions by slowing down and using her depth finder to gauge where she was on the lake.
When the rainy, dark night made it impossible to see the familiar navigation lights on land and the lake, Blizzard unknowingly ventured off course. That’s when she hit Diamond Island, she said.
Shinopulos also testified and told jurors she believes Blizzard had too little to drink to be intoxicated. She also said she’d still trust “my life in a boat” with Blizzard.
Blizzard’s husband, Michael Hansen, her parents, friends and other relatives have been at the trial since it began last week and were at the courthouse today.
Beaudoin’s family has also attended the trial but did not await verdicts at the court.