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Verdict May Free Drunk Driver in Woman’s Death

<i> From a Times Staff Writer</i>

A drunk, speeding driver who struck and killed a Newport Beach woman in the alley behind her home was convicted Tuesday of vehicular manslaughter after his second trial--a verdict that means he may soon be free.

An Orange County Superior Court jury convicted Danny David Ornelas in the 1988 death of Debbie Killelea, 37, a mother of three. The verdict was considered a victory for the defense.

A previous jury convicted Ornelas of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and a judge sentenced him to the maximum 10 years in prison.

An appellate court, however, found that the judge erred in his instructions to the jury. The appellate court overturned the sentence and allowed a retrial.

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As the verdict was read Tuesday, Ornelas, 21, smiled and looked at his mother, who offered a quick prayer of thanks.

“This was the verdict we were asking for,” said Ralph Bencangey, Ornelas’ attorney. He said Ornelas faces a maximum sentence of four years, less than he has already served with work and good behavior time credits.


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