After about five hours of deliberation, the jury in the trial of Justine Winter found the Evergreen teenager guilty on two counts of deliberate homicide stemming from a 2009 car crash.
The jury members were individually polled after the verdict was read to a tense, silent courtroom. Each responded that they supported their decision to convict Winter of killing Erin Thompson, 35, and her son, Caden Odell, 13, in a car crash on March 19, 2009.
Winter, 17, stood silently with her attorneys after the guilty verdict came down, and her family cried with their heads in their hands as officers took her into custody.
Family members, friends and supporters on both sides of the case reacted to the jury’s decision with tears, leaving the courtroom quickly once the proceedings were over.
Prosecutors said Winter intentionally crossed the centerline of U.S. Highway 93 north of Kalispell, crashing her Pontiac Grand Am into Thompson’s Subaru Forester.
She was charged with two counts of deliberate homicide after investigators found a text message conversation between Winter and her boyfriend, in which Winter threatened suicide after they had had a fight.
The texts were sent after Winter dropped her boyfriend off at home. One of Winter’s texts read, “if i won. I would have you. And i wouldn’t crash my car.”
Winter’s attorneys maintained throughout the two-week trial that the text messages were part of an ongoing dialogue between Winter and her boyfriend, and both teenagers used mentions of suicide to gain control of the conversation. Neither took the threats literally, the defense said.
The defense also argued that the crash happened in Winter’s southbound lane, contradicting the state’s assertions that Winter intentionally veered into Thompson’s northbound lane.
However, in his closing arguments earlier on Thursday, County Attorney Ed Corrigan told the jury that Winter knowingly endangered the lives of others when she drove into oncoming traffic.
“When she made that decision and when she followed through on that decision and when two people died, she’s responsible for their deaths,” Corrigan said.
District Court Judge Katherine Curtis remanded Winter to the sheriff’s custody, and scheduled a March 30 sentencing date.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.