Mann testifies; trial goes to jury

By Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate January 31, 2014 03:39 pm

Jurors will return to the courthouse today to continue deliberating on Coulter Mann’s fate after they heard him testify Tuesday and heard closing arguments in his trial Wednesday.

They went behind closed doors following six days of testimony in which the prosecution asserted that Mann was clearly intoxicated at the time of a fatal car crash, bringing in witnesses to testify to his .20 blood-alcohol level, while the defense claimed Mann’s BAC was inaccurate due to an “overshoot” in the blood test caused by the collision’s strong blow to his abdomen that pushed alcohol into his small intestines.

Mann, who was Crescent Elk Middle School’s assistant principal at the time of the wreck, faces charges of driving under the 
influence of alcohol causing injury with an enhancement of great bodily injury and driving at or above .08 BAC causing injury.

On Dec. 21, 2012, Mann was driving his 2003 GMC Sierra truck north on U.S. Highway 101 when, at around 8:54 p.m., it veered into the southbound lane south of Fred Haight Drive and hit a 2005 Ford Focus, killing 67-year-old Klamath resident Kenneth G. Jones. 

Checking his voice mail

Mann testified on Tuesday he doesn’t remember the crash. 

He was driving home from Crescent Elk principal Bill Hartwick’s house after Mann and several other school administrators had been drinking and socializing. Mann was on U.S. Highway 101 heading north to Brookings. After passing the Dr. Fine Bridge, he thought to check his voice mail, he testified.

“I don’t remember calling my voice mail, but I remember thinking I should,” said Mann.

He demonstrated for the jury how he kept his flip phone in his lap while he drove and made phone calls. A document presented showed Mann’s cell phone usage. At 8:53 p.m., it showed a call to his voice mail that lasted three minutes and a call from his wife at 8:54 p.m that lasted a minute.

It was about 8:54 p.m. that his truck drifted into the oncoming lane, nearly colliding with one truck whose driver swerved out of the way before smashing into Jones’ car.

Mann testified that he woke up with his legs in pain.

“I knew I was in a car accident, but I didn’t know how,” said Mann, adding he heard emergency responders mention that it wasn’t his fault.

About an hour later, after responders were able to free his left leg that was pinned by a front wheel, he was on his way to Sutter Coast Hospital in an ambulance and trying to remember what happened, he testified.

“I remember some things,” said Mann. “I certainly couldn’t claim to remember everything.”

He said he remembers giving an ER physician information about himself.  

He said he doesn’t remember arguing with a California Highway Patrol officer about a half-hour later who was seeking consent for a blood test to measure his BAC, but said he does remember being angered when the officer said the accident was his fault. About a month later, Mann wrote a letter to the local CHP office admitting fault in the accident.

An initial blood test was taken at Sutter Coast Hospital 90 minutes after the crash, which showed he had an approximate BAC of .20, an ER physician testified earlier. Then the CHP officer ordered Mann’s blood drawn again, and that test also showed he had a BAC of .20.

At the time he told hospital staff and the CHP officer he only had two beers, according to prior testimony.

He was eventually flown to Mercy Medical Center in Redding. At around 5 a.m., about eight hours after the crash, he was tested again and registered a .09 BAC, according to testimony. 

During cross examination, deputy District Attorney Todd Zocchi questioned the integrity of Mann’s recollection.

“I’m not selectively deciding,” said Mann. “I’m telling you exactly what I remember.”

He testified to having consumed 35-40 ounces of a beer with an 8.8 percent alcohol content and two or three 12-ounce bottles of beer with a 5.6 percent alcohol content. He also testified tasting whiskey, though he said he had placed a tiny bit on his tongue “but didn’t swallow,” before pouring the rest of the drink into a sink.

Mann said he was willing to accept responsibility for what happened, but “unfortunately that’s not what I’m being charged with.”

“I do not think alcohol was a factor,” said Mann. “I don’t remember what it was. I don’t remember the collision.”

Closing statements

In the pretrial phase of the case, the District Attorney’s Office dismissed a vehicular manslaughter charge against Mann.

On Wednesday, jurors began deliberating after hearing closing statements from Zocchi and co-defense counsel Ed Mann, who is also Coulter’s father.

Zocchi started closing arguments by attacking Mann’s testimony. 

“The defendant claims alcohol had nothing to do with the crash,” said Zocchi.

He lined up several red plastic cups in front of the jury, depicting how much it was estimated Mann drank.

“This is what he admits to drinking, but alcohol was not a factor,” said Zocchi. “This was a well-educated man who understands accountability. If this case shows nothing else, he refuses to take accountability in this case.”

Zocchi argued to the jury that Mann couldn’t be trusted about how much he drank after lying to hospital staff and authorities after the crash. 

He also honed in on Mann’s testimony about having whiskey on his tongue but not swallowing it.

“Who does that?” Zocchi asked.

He argued Mann changed the story of how much he drank from the original two beers statement because he knew that experts would testify about his .20 BAC level and that he had refused to consent to the blood test, not because he couldn’t read the form, but he had hoped it would not be admitted into the trial as evidence. 

“At 5 a.m., he was supposed to go on this family trip or whatever,” said Zocchi. “He was still over the limit.”

Zocchi argued Mann wasn’t pacing himself as he had testified.

“He was having a good time,” said Zocchi. “He put lives at stake because of his selfishness.”

He also attacked the testimony of the defense’s paid expert, which was a lynchpin in the defense’s rapid-BAC increase argument. He pointed out the expert had never used the defense before in the hundreds of cases he’s testified in.

“Who’s Kenneth Jones to him? Nobody. Absolutely nobody. A payday,” said Zocchi. 

Ed Mann began his closing argument by stating his son did not know he was drinking beer with a high-alcohol content.  

He went on to argue his son never showed signs of nystagmus — rapid involuntary movement of the eyes that can be associated with brain trauma or intoxication — when an ER doctor tested him shortly after his arrival at the hospital. Mann refused a nystagmus test from a CHP officer.

“It is absolutely a silver bullet in this case,” said Ed Mann, who drew from a study presented to the jury showing a correlation between nystagmus and BAC levels. 

“This is science,” said Mann. “Every step of the way (the prosecution) have tried to fool you.” 

Drawing from the nystagmus study, Mann asserted his son had a BAC in the .06 range at the time he was examined by the ER doctor when he arrived at the hospital, then about 20 minutes later he had a .20 BAC level. 

“I’m not here to fool you,” said Mann. “I’m not going to do that.” 

Ed Mann argued that a majority of what the ER physician testified to aligned with what the defense’s expert testified to while dismissing a California Department of Justice  criminalist’s testimony that Mann was above a .08 BAC level when he crashed into Jones’s car. 

“She was a nice lady, but I don’t think she was very helpful in this case,” said Mann. “You can’t give numbers where numbers aren’t given.”

Wrapping up the defense

 Ed Mann argued Zocchi was attempting to garner sympathy from the jury by showing a picture of Jones dead.

“Mr. Zocchi put up a picture of Mr. Jones and it was heartbreaking,” said Ed Mann. “Mr. Mann caused that, he did, and we can’t change that.”

“You cannot convict him becase a man died.” 

Mann argued that all of the evidence presented in the trial pointed toward his son’s innocence except one: the .20 BAC two hours after the crash.

He spoke about witnesses -- who  also admitted to being his friends -- at the party testifying Mann didn’t seem impaired, and emergency responders to the crash who didn’t notice signs of intoxication, in addition to a lack of nystagmus as testified by an ER physician. 

He downplayed the significance of his son not signing a consent form to have his blood drawn by a CHP officer; stating it was because he couldn’t read “or maybe he did consent.”

“It doesn’t really mean that much in this case,” said Mann. 

 He argued his son’s .20 BAC level is an anomaly and argued that people who use cell phones while driving kill people regularly.

“That happens without impairment,” said Mann. “It’s just one of those things that shouldn’t happen, but they do happen.” 

He argued the law forces people to place their cell phones in their laps while using them, which is dangerous. He also argued Jones was following too closely to the truck his son’s truck almost struck before crashing into Jones’ car. 

“He not avoiding responsibility for what he did,” said Ed Mann. “He’s avoiding responisbility for being charged with this other stuff.”

The attorney said he’s never tried a criminal case before, but he understands what beyond a reasonable doubt means.

“I think the only reasonable inference is that Mr. Mann was clearly under the limit,” said Ed Mann. 

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