The fate of the driver charged with murder after his runaway big rig killed a 12-year-old girl and her father in April 2009 in La Cañada Flintridge is in the hands of the jury after attorneys on both sides completed their closing arguments Wednesday afternoon at the Los Angeles County Superior Courthouse in Pasadena.
Deputy District Atty. Carolina Lugo told jurors that driver Marcos Costa had acted with willful disregard for human life as he proceeded down Angeles Crest Highway before the brakes on his truck went out and it barreled through Foothill Boulevard, striking several cars and crashing into a bookstore.
On Tuesday, Judge Darrell Mavis explained to the jurors the technical legal conditions required for a guilty finding in the charges of murder, vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving that were brought against Costa.
Defense attorney Edward Murphy attacked each of the charges, accusing Lugo of inaccurately portraying weeks of testimony from a procession of witnesses and insisting Costa had never expressed malice aforethought, the condition of a defendant having either explicit or implied malice in his intent when he acted.
“To argue that during the 40 minutes behind the wheel, Costa had malice aforethought — for what? Against whom? That’s the worst argument I’ve ever heard,” Murphy said. “It’s a lousy case. The only correct verdicts in this case are not guilty, on all counts.”
Lugo was equally animated before the jury about her certitude that the evidence showed a malicious intent.
“The evidence tells you this was no accident. This is about what the defendant was thinking …and the choices he made, from beginning to end,” said Lugo. “When he stopped at the snow gate, with smoke billowing from the truck, and chose to go forward, that was his conscious decision … to disregard human life.”
In testimony, Costa claimed he did not come to a stop at the Angeles National Forest snow gate above La Cañada. A man who was driving behind Costa’s truck that day testified that he did stop.
Murphy grew visibly upset as he drew his arguments to a close, saying that he thought the argument brought by the prosecution was not only inaccurate in several spots, but lacking in overall merit.
“The terrible tragedy that happened … has nothing to do when we start looking at what Mr. Costa did or didn’t do,” said Murphy. “He didn’t do anything wrong or criminal.”
Lugo also had similarly strong criticisms of Murphy’s reasoning, saying, “Respectfully, the defense’s argument makes no sense.”
She closed with an emotional appeal to the jury, questioning Murphy’s decision not to refer to the crash victims by name in his argument.
“They’re not just these people, they are George and Angelina Posca, and they’re dead because the defendant killed them,” said Lugo. “You see his story is unreasonable and must be rejected.”
Jurors began deliberations Wednesday afternoon after receiving instructions from Mavis.
Murphy said he expects a verdict next week.