Archive for Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Opening statements begin trial in Highway 59 hit-and-run deaths

September 2, 2008

A Douglas County prosecutor said Tuesday morning that his legal team needed to prove only that two construction workers died because of the defendant's actions during the hit-and-run murder trial of a Washington state woman.

"It's possible at the end of the trial we still won't know exactly why things happened the way they did, but the state's not required to prove why," said David Melton, a chief assistant Douglas County district attorney.

Ramona Morgan, 49, faces two counts of reckless second-degree murder for the deaths of Tyrone Korte, 30, of Seneca, and Rolland Griffith, 24, of El Dorado. Morgan also is charged with aggravated battery, accused of injuring a third worker Sept. 11, 2007, in a construction zone on U.S. Highway 59 near Pleasant Grove.

Shortly before 3 p.m., eight women and six men were sworn in as jurors. Two of them will serve as alternates.

Opening statements were scheduled to begin at 3:20.

During jury selection, Melton asked the panel members if they could remain impartial in a case that has received considerable media attention after the wreck and Morgan's earlier trial in Osage County for eluding law enforcement.

District Judge Paula Martin agreed to dismiss three juror candidates. Two of them spoke privately to Martin and the attorneys after Melton asked about media coverage creating a bias before any evidence was presented.

A third candidate was dismissed because her husband retired from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office. Several sheriff's officers and Kansas Highway Patrol troopers are expected to testify.

Morgan, who fled the accident scene, was convicted by an Osage County jury in April of a felony charge of trying to flee from police, as well as several misdemeanor traffic violations. Troopers had arrested her in Osage County.

Prosecutors have said that Morgan ignored signs and warnings to stop and twice drove through the blocked-off construction area in Douglas County. It was on her second pass, they say, that Morgan struck and killed Korte, a Kansas Department of Transportation employee, and Griffith, who worked for Dustrol Inc., the Towanda firm hired to do the highway repaving.

Morgan's defense attorney, Billy Rork, said he planned to argue that Morgan drove through the construction zone because she was being chased and believed her life was in danger.

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