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Murder Case Involving 4 Crash Victims Goes to Jury

Times Staff Writer

Jurors begin deliberations today in the drunk-driving case of Michael W. Reding, who is charged with second-degree murder in the deaths of a Fullerton mother and her three children in a 1984 car crash.

In his closing argument Monday, Deputy Dist. Atty Michael A. Jacobs charged that Reding “lied” about his use of cocaine the day he “maliciously” killed four innocent victims, shortly after being barred from ordering more drinks at a Brea bar.

In response, Reding’s attorney, Heidi Mueller, accused Jacobs of smearing her client’s character by “hitting below the belt,” noting that no evidence had been presented in the trial indicating Reding had taken cocaine the day of the accident.

Reding, 27, is charged with murder in the death of Pamela Trueblood, 36, and her three children, ages 11, 9 and 8, in an auto crash on Oct. 23, 1984. Reding, also of Fullerton, has admitted drinking that day but not enough to cause the accident. He contended that he was driving too fast and was trying to avoid hitting another car before he swerved into oncoming traffic and hit the Trueblood car.

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Cocaine Tests

During the trial, evidence was presented that Reding’s blood at the time of the accident showed a reading of 0.45 micrograms per milliliter of benzoyl ecgonine, a substance described in court as metabolized cocaine. However, no cocaine per se was found in Reding’s blood tests. Consequently, no charge of being under the influence of cocaine was leveled against the defendant.

In court, Jacobs hammered away at Reding’s alleged “lie” that he had ingested no cocaine “that day,” saying, “The defendant’s lied in court to his use of cocaine when his benzoyl ecgonine level establishes without a doubt his use of cocaine.”

But Mueller, who during the trial protested any introduction into evidence of Reding’s alleged cocaine usage, told jurors that Jacobs’ evidence was weak, prompting the prosecutor to stoop to “character assassination.”

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“Michael Reding had no prior convictions or drunk-driving arrests,” Mueller said. “So the district attorney has to focus on the defendant’s behavior the day of the accident and portray him as a coke fiend.

“I suppose if you can’t fight fair you have to kick below the belt,” she added.

Mueller said the amount of benzoyl ecgonine in Reding’s system had been metabolized to the point that no active cocaine ingredients were present at the time of the car crash.

Still, Jacobs was adamant that jurors should convict Reding for murder. Although the defendant has expressed remorse for the accident, “being sorry” now shouldn’t cause the second-degree murder charges against him to be reduced to manslaughter, he added.

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“He (Reding) got cut off from a bar that day after having five beers and four kamikazes (a potent vodka drink),"Jacobs said. “He gets into his car and failed to appreciate his condition.”

Jacobs, summing up the prosecution’s case, said that Reding had a blood alcohol level of .10, the level at which a person is considered legally drunk in California, and enough to impair judgment. Also, he said, Reding was driving erratically at a high speed and had told police immediately after the crash that he knew he was making an “unsafe” maneuver when he attempted to pass another vehicle on the right shoulder and lost control of his car.

If Reding is found guilty, he would be the first Orange County defendant to be convicted of murder in a drunk-driving traffic fatality case since the state Supreme Court decided three years ago to allow prosecutors to file second-degree murder charges in such cases, court officials said.

Evidence varied on just how fast Reding was traveling before the accident. Witnesses for the prosecution have contended that it was at least 71 m.p.h. However, the defense contends it was only 48 m.p.h.

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