By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO February 24, 2004 The vehicular manslaughter case against Kenneth Newman came to an end on Friday as a jury found the 24-year-old driver of a car that killed his best friends fiancee guilty on all 16 charges stemming from the fatal crash.
It was the story about the death of a bride-to-be in a bachelorette party gone horribly awry, a real-life tale of a best man behind the wheel of a car that claimed the life of a 25-year-old mother of a four-year-old daughter, almost killed the drivers friend and groom-to-be, and seriously injured several other passengers.
In the wake of a mistrial, the second jury deliberated until 9:30 p.m. Thursday night.
After a total of 12 hours, they found the driver guilty as charged on all counts, including vehicular manslaughter in the second degree, vehicular assault in the second degree (both felonies), driving while intoxicated, driving while ability impaired by alcohol/drugs, misdemeanor assault and numerous violations of state traffic laws.
Sentencing is scheduled for April 2. Newman faces a maximum sentence of 2 to 7 years in state prison.
The verdict marked the end of a truly tragic scenario in which a group of young adults went out for a night of uninhibited partying involving drugs and booze on August 18-19, 2003.
Then it all went terribly wrong when Newman got behind the wheel of a car that took the life of his best friends betrothed after he lost control while speeding away from Swan Lakes Kilcoins Tavern in the early morning hours of August 19, 2003.
Just four days after the fatal wreck, Newman was going to be Billy Conklins best man as he wed Tabitha Joslin.
Instead, hes sitting in jail, convicted of several major crimes.
In essence, Sullivan County Court Judge Frank J. LaBuda told the jurors they had to carefully consider the main issues of the case: whether Newman and his friends were justified in fleeing what some witnesses said was an angry, bottle-throwing mob outside Kilcoins, or the defendant acted in a reckless manner while his ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired by alcohol and controlled drugs, including marijuana and cocaine.
In previous testimony, a couple of college girls and an inmate at the local jail (arrested and jailed in an unrelated incident after the accident) testified they were at Kilcoins Tavern in Swan Lake that fateful night, and while they witnessed a fight in the parking lot, they didnt see anyone throw anything at Newmans vehicle.
Survivors of the crash said they fled in fear of their lives after a violent mob attacked them outside the bar, throwing rocks and bottles at Newmans car as they tried to escape the crowd.
In both trials, the survivors of the deadly wreck and the deceaseds family have been Newmans undaunted supporters.
The defense called groom-to-be Billy Conklin Jr. to the stand as their first witness during the second trial.
We were just trying to get out of there, he said. Tabitha was inside [the car]. . . . They were surrounding us, fighting us . . . yelling, screaming, throwing punches . . . yelling, Im going to kill you, f--- you up . . . [and] somebody punched me square in the face.
Kenny was holding onto the wheel, panicking, scared for his life, he added of the moments just before the fatal wreck. We were yelling at him to go. . . . He was basically pleading for his life, to leave us alone.
In the crash, Conklin sustained multiple skull fractures, numerous facial lacerations and fractured bones.
Under cross-examination by Sullivan County Assistant District Attorney Michael McGuire, you could have cut the tension in the courtroom between the prosecutor and the witness with a razor-edged knife.
I was scared s---less, said Conklin of the bar brawl.
Asked by the local prosecutor if his reality (memories of the bar fight/accident) was affected by drugs and alcohol, Conklin replied, My reality was screwed up by people beating the crap of me.
In response to McGuires contention that the witness recalled more details of the bar fight subsequent to his initial statements made to authorities soon after the accident, Conklin said, I have short- and long-term memory loss. . . . It sporadically comes back to me.
Hes still my best friend and always will be, said Conklin, looking at Newman sitting at the defense table between his attorneys during the trial in Monticello last week.
Afterwards, ADA McGuire summed up the case.
Its such a unique case in that all the victims were against us, he said. Laws arent there only to protect those four people in the car. The law is there to protect everybody and to discourage the kind of conduct he committed that night.
There needs to be consequences for that kind of action or every one of us is imperiled, he added.