Judge Denies Evergreen Teen’s Request for New Trial

By Beacon Staff

A Flathead County District Court judge has ruled an Evergreen teen convicted of double murder will not receive a new trial or amended charges, and will be sentenced as scheduled.

Justine Winter, 18, will be sentenced on June 6 for her role in the deaths of Erin Thompson, 35, and Thompson’s son, Caden Odell, 13.

In February, a jury found Winter guilty of two counts of deliberate homicide after determining that she intentionally drove her car across the centerline on U.S. Highway 93 on March 19, 2009, crashing into Thompson.

Winter’s attorneys, David Stufft and Max Battle, filed a motion for a new trial in April, citing new evidence from a previously undiscovered witness, violations of Winter’s constitutional rights, allegations that the prosecution changed its theory during trial and other issues.

The attorneys asked District Court Judge Katherine Curtis to order a new trial for their client, or possibly lessen the severity of the charges against Winter or find her not guilty all together.

Curtis denied the motion in a June 2, 20-page order. She wrote that the defense’s new witness, Dan DeCoite, did not provide any testimony that would have refuted the prosecution’s key witness, Richard Poeppel, who testified in court that he saw the crash and held Thompson until she died.

DeCoite was called to court for a hearing on the new trial motion on May 24 and said he came upon the crash soon after it had happened and had seen another man there.

Curtis concluded that the new testimony did not warrant a new trial.

“Mr. DeCoite’s testimony did not establish that Mr. Poeppel’s testimony was untruthful and, in fact, corroborated the State’s theory that (Winter) was travelling at a high rate of speed until immediately before the accident,” Curtis wrote.

Curtis also ruled that the prosecution maintained its position that Winter knowingly made the decision to cross into oncoming traffic and that she is responsible for the deaths of two people.

Winter’s attorneys also argued that there was no evidence established to prove that their client intended to crash into another car that night. However, Curtis wrote that a text message Winter sent reading “I’m going to wreck my car,” could be used as evidence to infer the teen’s state of mind.

“A reasonable jury could well conclude from all the facts and circumstances at (Winter’s) trial that (Winter) was aware of a high probability that if she drove her vehicle across the highway centerline at approximately 84 miles per hour and crashed her vehicle head on into another vehicle proceeding down the highway she would cause the death of persons in the other vehicle,” Curtis wrote.

Curtis also ruled that Winter’s defense failed to establish facts to back up other allegations the defense cited as reasons for a new trial.

“(Winter) received a fair trial,” Curtis wrote. “The interests of justice, the law, and the weight of evidence do not justify or warrant a new trial or modifications to the verdict.”

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