A federal magistrate has recommended dropping murder charges against Diane Mannes in the deaths of three young men in a March, 1989, drunk-driving accident on the Conejo Grade because a Ventura County judge dismissed the case once before.
Trying Mannes a second time would violate her constitutional rights against double jeopardy, U.S. District Magistrate Volney V. Brown Jr. wrote in a recommendation to District Judge A. Wallace Tashima.
“The recommendation of a magistrate is given great weight and preference,” said Deputy Public Defender Neil B. Quinn, who petitioned the federal court last June on Mannes’ behalf for an order prohibiting another trial. Quinn said he expects that Tashima will approve Brown’s recommendation, which would bar prosecutors from pursuing a second murder trial against Mannes.
But prosecutors have vowed to appeal any such approval to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael D. Schwartz said.
Schwartz, who argued against Mannes’ double-jeopardy claim in U.S. District Court last year, said that “case law allows the defendant to be retried for murder.”
Mannes, 35, of Somis, was tried in Ventura County Superior Court in November, 1989, on charges of drunk driving and second-degree murder in the accident.
On March 31, 1989, Mannes got behind the wheel of her Ford Bronco and drove on the Ventura Freeway with a blood-alcohol level that was more than twice the 0.10% legal definition of drunkenness in effect at the time.
Traveling in the slow lane down the Conejo Grade, the Bronco swerved to the right, grazed the victims’ disabled car and ran them down on the shoulder, witnesses said. The collision killed Scott Mullins, 20, of Mansfield, Ohio, and Camarillo residents Jacob Eugene Boyd, 14, and Joshua Daniel Oxenrider, 19, and injured two of their friends.
The jury convicted Mannes of drunk driving, but deadlocked on a 7-5 vote in favor of convicting her on three second-degree murder charges. She is serving a four-year sentence in Ventura County Jail for drunk driving.
On Nov. 30, 1989, Judge Robert J. Soares refused prosecutors’ requests to reset the case for trial, ruling that a second trial would be “a waste of time and money.”
Soares’ ruling said, in part, “I can see no reasonable possibility that a new jury could arrive at a unanimous verdict of guilty on the murder charge.” But the ruling also said Mannes “should not escape punishment for any deaths she has caused. Provided she is properly charged, I am certain she will not.”
In most cases when a jury is deadlocked, the judge declares a mistrial, leaving the door open for prosecutors to refile the same charges. Soares dismissed the murder charges in this case, and when Deputy Dist. Atty. Donald C. Glynn refiled second-degree murder charges, the public defender’s office petitioned the federal court to halt the prosecution.
Brown issued his recommendation Dec. 27.
It said, in part, “Where the trial court finds that the evidence at the first trial was legally insufficient to sustain a verdict, double jeopardy protection would be violated by a retrial on the same charges . . . That is this case! “
Schwartz had argued in his response to Mannes’ petition that Soares’ dismissal “does not resolve any factual elements of the crime, but reflects merely that dismissal would be ‘in the furtherance of justice.’ ”
But Brown replied in his recommendation: “This may be what state law provides, but . . . it is ineffective to deprive petitioner of her Fifth Amendment constitutional rights.”
Schwartz said this week that he will file objections to Brown’s recommendation before Jan. 16.
Soares’ ruling “does not prevent us from retrying a defendant,” Schwartz said. “It was a dismissal, but it does not constitute an acquittal.”
But Deputy Public Defender Neil Quinn criticized the district attorney’s persistence in pressing murder charges against Mannes, despite her repeated offers to plead guilty to lesser charges of manslaughter in the victims’ deaths.
“The district attorney’s position in this case is so unreasonable that by their very position . . . that they may endanger their ability to secure any conviction at all,” Quinn said.
“The state has to follow certain rules and the state is breaking those rules,” Quinn said. “There’s going to come a time when a court is going to say, ‘You forfeit the right to charge her with any offense because you’re breaking the rules.’ And we would not count it as a victory if that occurs.”