A drunk driver from Lancaster who drove the wrong way on the Ventura Freeway and caused a head-on crash that killed four people was convicted Tuesday of second-degree murder.
A Van Nuys Superior Court jury deliberated 3 1/2 days before finding Daniel E. Murray, 27, guilty of four counts of second-degree murder and one count each of vehicular manslaughter and felony drunk driving.
Murray could be sentenced to 61 years to life in prison for the Dec. 11, 1986, crash caused when his pickup truck rammed a car driven by Suzanne Brown, 37, near Liberty Canyon Road in Agoura. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 24 in Judge Kathryne Ann Stoltz’s court.
After driving erratically on the westbound Ventura Freeway, Murray made a U-turn into oncoming traffic and drove for at least three miles at speeds estimated at 50 to 75 m.p.h. before striking Brown’s car.
Killed in the accident were Brown, a Ventura High School teacher; her son, Jonah Brown, 7; her father, Jack Rawls, 69, and Dia Rae Rounds, 16, all of Ventura.
The tragic crash scene was witnessed by Suzanne Brown’s son, Jamaal, riding on a bus with fellow members of the Buena High School basketball team. He saw his mother’s wrecked Honda Accord, which had a personalized license plate, surrounded by ambulances.
Jamaal Brown’s family and Rounds, his girlfriend, were returning from a basketball game in Beverly Hills when the accident occurred.
Murray, whose blood-alcohol level after the accident was measured at .19%--nearly twice the legal limit in California--sustained minor neck injuries.
Murray, fired from his job as an equipment operator at Northrop Corp. after the accident, stared at the counsel table as court clerk David Fields read the verdict.
His parents, wife, and sister, who regularly attended the two-month trial, would not comment on the verdict.
Charles English, one of Murray’s two attorneys, called the case “a tragedy for everybody. This is a case that nobody wins. Nothing can bring these people back.”
English said the verdict will be appealed.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Phillip H. Rabichow argued during the trial that Murray knew he had a drinking problem and displayed a conscious disregard for human life when he got behind the wheel after consuming alcoholic beverages at a Christmas party.
To get a murder verdict of guilty, Rabichow had to convince the jury that Murray was aware of the danger he posed to others but did not care. To prove manslaughter, he had to prove that Murray should have known it would be hazardous to drink and drive.
Murray testified that he drank at least 19 beers the evening of the crash.
Two months before the fatal crash, according to testimony, he told friends that he had blacked out on his way home from another party and woke up in his car on the opposite side of the road.
Murray’s lawyers did not dispute that Murray caused the crash or that he was drunk at the time. But they contended he was too drunk to know his actions endangered the lives of others.
The defense argued that Murray’s drinking was compounded by his use of an amphetamine the day before the crash and by organic brain damage caused by a head injury he suffered at the age of 13.
Rabichow said there was no evidence that Murray suffered from organic brain damage. He noted that Murray was aware enough of what he was doing before the crash to find his way to the freeway, to stop and order food at a fast-food restaurant and to dodge more than 10 vehicles.
Murray had been warned of the dangers of drunk driving while attending three separate drunk-driving-awareness courses in 1979, 1980 and 1983 after being convicted of drunk driving in two cases, Rabichow said.