Jurors convict on 1 of 2 charges

Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate

Coulter Mann faces term of 16 months to six years

After more than a year of suffering the loss of Klamath resident Kenneth Jones and reliving his death through the trial of the man responsible for it, members of the Jones family say they can finally smile.

Jones, 67, died when a GMC Sierra truck driven by former Crescent Elk Middle School assistant principal Coulter Mann drifted into the southbound lane of U.S. Highway 101, south of Smith River, smashing Jones' Ford Focus on Dec. 21, 2012.

About two hours later, Mann, 33, was lying in a hospital bed having his blood drawn for an alcohol test but not before arguing with a California Highway Patrol officer. He eventually relented, but verbally announced he was refusing the test, which showed a blood-alcohol count of 0.20. The legal limit is 0.08.

A jury convicted Mann on Thursday of driving under the influence with a special allegation for causing great bodily injury, but after further deliberation on Friday they couldn't unanimously reach a decision on a charge of driving at or above 0.08 BAC and causing injury. They were 7-5 in favor of guilt on that count, but a unanimous vote is required to convict.

Mann is set to be sentenced on March 3, when he will face a state prison term ranging from 16 months to six years.

"My

life has been turned upside down," said Luella Jones, Kenneth's

partner. "I lost one of my oldest friends. I've known him for longer

than Coulter Mann has been alive."

The two met when Luella was 16.

He was her first love, she said. Their lives drifted apart, but they

reunited after they had raised their own families.

"He always used

to say it was fate," said Luella Jones. "This never should have

happened. We were supposed to spend the rest of our lives together."

'I've been stuck in time'

Following

the guilty verdict Thursday, family and friends of Jones, who had sat

through the six-day trial, met Deputy District Attorney Todd Zocchi

outside of the courtroom with hugs, tears and smiles, showing their

gratitude to the prosecutor.

Jones' family said the DA's Office was helpful and accommodating throughout the case.

"It's renewed my faith in the justice system," said Luella Jones.

She

said she was angry with how the defense handled the case, in her

opinion attempting to place the blame on factors other than Mann's

decision to drink and drive.

"I know he's doing what he had to do,

but the way they did it diminished Kenneth's life," said Luella Jones.

"Mann doesn't think he did anything wrong. They acted like it was

nothing."

Kendra Jones said she thought Mann should have accepted accountability from the onset for killing her father.

Kenneth

Jones was a grandfather, father and all-around loving family man, she

said, adding the hearty laugh he shared at family gatherings will be

missed.

The Christmas following her father's death, Kendra Jones

was writing his obituary. A few days later, on his birthday, the family

buried him.

"It's like I've been stuck in time for the past year," she said.

The

story line runs deeper than one man getting into his vehicle after

having too much to drink and killing another man, the family said.

"The way I looked at it, he was going to kill somebody that night," said Luella Jones.

Mann

was at a party for four hours at Crescent Elk Principal Bill Hartwick's

house along with other Del Norte Unified School District administrators

who testified Mann didn't seem intoxicated.

The two

administrators, Hartwick and Smith River Elementary School principal

Paige Swan, who were the last to speak with Mann in a driveway just

prior to his departure, did not cooperate with the District Attorney's

Office in the case. Hartwick cited potential civil liability as a

reason, and Swan testified he had already given authorities a statement

and he had nothing to offer that would help Mann's defense.

Kendra

Jones said the case doesn't stop with the verdict; she has a son who

attends Crescent Elk and will continue to attend Del Norte schools.

"This

doesn't stop for my family. I have to deal with all these people

still," said Kendra Jones. "It made me sad they wouldn't stand up for

what's right."

'They thought he was sober'

Ed Mann,

co-counsel for the defense and Coulter's father, said the community

should not be angry with other school administrators who were at the

party.

"When my son left there, they thought he was sober. He thought he was sober," said Ed Mann after the verdicts were announced.

He

reiterated that his son didn't display nystagmus - involuntary eye

movements - during a test performed by an ER physician checking for

brain trauma about an hour after the crash. A nystagmus test is also

normally performed by authorities as part of their sobriety tests, but

Mann declined a CHP officer's request to do so.

The test by the

ER physician was an indicator that Mann was still below 0.08 BAC, and

that something happened to cause his BAC to rapidly rise in the 20

minutes between the eye test and a blood test medical staff performed,

Ed Mann said.

"That was the argument we made to the jury," said Ed Mann. "They did find impairment."

But jurors disagreed on whether the prosecution proved Mann was above the legal BAC limit of 0.08 at the time of the crash.

Jurors speak out

A group of jurors outside of the courtroom explained their reasoning behind the verdicts.

They

wavered 7-5 on the second charge because there wasn't enough evidence

to show he was legally intoxicated at the time of the crash.

They

said they didn't factor in the defense's theory that Mann experienced a

dramatic rise in BAC after the crash. One juror called that

"far-fetched."

One of the pieces of evidence they considered was

the amount of alcohol Mann testified to drinking at the party, which

they felt couldn't definitely prove he was above a 0.08 BAC.

A major factor in their decision to acquit on the second charge was a lack of nystagmus, as the ER physician testified to.

"That was reasonable doubt for me," stated one juror.

"I

feel it broke our hearts for both sides," said one juror. "I want

everyone to know how seriously we took this from both sides."

Reach Anthony Skeens at askeens@triplicate.com .

14082582
The Del Norte Triplicate
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