A California appeals court on Friday overturned the second-degree murder conviction of a driver who struck a man and drove two miles with his body embedded in her windshield.
The trial of Sherri Lynn Wilkins was marred because her entire criminal history — a rap sheet that included drug possession, prostitution and burglary — was admitted as an exhibit and could have prejudiced the jury, the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled.
“The long list of arrests and convictions created a significant risk that the jury would improperly infer that whether or not defendant was criminally liable for killing Moreno, she had committed other crimes, she would commit crimes in the future, and she posed a danger to society in general and should be punished,” the three-member appellate panel concluded.
The court reversed Wilkins' convictions for second-degree murder and driving under the influence but let stand her conviction for leaving the scene of the accident. It also permitted prosecutors to retry Wilkins on the charges.
Messages seeking comment from Wilkins' trial lawyer and the Los Angeles County district attorney's office were not immediately answered.
Wilkins was a substance-abuse counselor and was driving home when she struck and killed Phillip Moreno, 31, of Torrance on Nov. 24, 2012. She drove more than two miles with his half-naked body impaling the windshield and his upper body facedown on the hood of her car before other motorists and bystanders confronted her at a stoplight, according to the appellate court.
Wilkins told them that Moreno seemed to jump in front of the car. He died at a hospital.
Wilkins drank three vodka shots and a beer in her car before driving, but the defense argued there hadn't been enough time for her blood-alcohol level to exceed the legal limit of .08. Investigators said Wilkins' blood-alcohol level was about twice that limit 1 1/2 hours after the crash.
In 2014, Wilkins was sentenced to 55 years to life in prison.
In her appeal, Wilkins argued that there wasn't enough evidence to convict her. But the appellate ruling concluded there was evidence to support the idea that Wilkins' conduct — such as failing to stop after hitting Moreno — was a “substantial factor” in his death and that allows the prosecutor to retry Wilkins.