VAN NUYS : Murder Convictions Urged Against Driver

A Van Nuys man who ran a red light while driving drunk and slammed into another car, killing two people, should be convicted of murder, a prosecutor said Thursday.

Lionel McGinnis, 39, is liable for murder because he made a conscious decision to go drink at a bar, and he knew that he would be driving home, Deputy Dist. Atty. Phillip H. Rabichow said during closing arguments in McGinnis' trial.

McGinnis is charged with two counts of murder stemming from a July 27, 1992, accident at the intersection of Woodman Avenue and Valerio Street, where McGinnis' Ford Ranger slammed into four young people in a Hyundai Excel.

Passengers Maria Henriquez Delcarmen, 16, and Eynar Contreras, 25, were killed in the early morning wreck, which occurred after McGinnis left one bar and was headed to another.

The driver of the vehicle, Rocael Contreras, who was then 23, and Anna Suarez, then 20, were injured but survived.

McGinnis was traveling 52 m.p.h. in a 30 m.p.h. zone when he went through a red light and struck the Hyundai, authorities said.

After the accident, McGinnis had a blood alcohol level of 0.25%--more than three times the legal limit of 0.08%.

When questioned after the crash, McGinnis admitted to Police Detective Maureen Correa that he was too drunk to drive, according to testimony.

At the time, McGinnis was on probation for his second drunk-driving conviction, he was attending a court-ordered alcohol awareness school and he had a restricted license that allowed him to drive legally only to and from work, Rabichow told the jury.

McGinnis does not contest that he was driving while under the influence of alcohol and that he caused the accident.

However, he strongly disagrees with the prosecutor's contention that he is a murderer, said defense attorney Michael Gottlieb.

"When you have this level of alcohol, you cannot appreciate what's going on," Gottlieb said outside court. "You cannot form the prerequisite knowledge."

Gottlieb said he will concede to the jury during his closing argument this morning that McGinnis is guilty of vehicular manslaughter.

In order to gain a murder conviction--in this case murder in the second degree--prosecutors must prove the defendant had "malice aforethought."

Rabichow has attempted to convince the jury that McGinnis formed malice by going to the bar, intending to drive home and knowing full well the dangers of drinking and driving.

The prosecutor admitted to the jury that McGinnis had no intention of killing two people, but that he embarked on an intentional course of conduct that McGinnis knew was inherently dangerous.

If McGinnis is convicted of murder, the law would require Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Michael J. Farrell to sentence him to a minimum of 15 years to life in prison.

In contrast, gross vehicular manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of six years in prison.

The jury is expected to begin deliberations today.

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