ANNAPOLIS – Ruling in a Montgomery County case, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals Thursday overturned the automobile manslaughter and reckless driving charges of a Washington, D.C., man because of insufficient evidence.
In an opinion for the state’s second highest court, Judge Raymond Thieme wrote that after “viewing all evidence in the light most favorable to the State, no rational trier of fact could have found guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
On December 22, 1995, McCarthy Plummer was driving on Piney Branch Road in Takoma Park when he struck and killed 12-year-old Brooke Williams with his car. Brooke, walking with friends, was on her way home from school to enjoy the start of her Christmas vacation.
Instead of stopping to provide assistance, Plummer fled the scene. He turned himself in to police three days later.
Charles Hawkins was driving behind Plummer and became the primary state witness. However, it was Hawkins’ testimony on which the appeals court based its decision.
Hawkins testified that he observed nothing erratic or unusual in Plummer’s driving prior to the car drifting onto the sidewalk. He also said that he saw Plummer decrease his speed upon approaching the school area, and estimated he was driving at or about the 30 mph speed limit.
Plummer was first tried in July 1996 for manslaughter by vehicle, failure to remain at the scene of an accident, failure to give information and render aid and failure to control speed to avoid a collision. The trial resulted in a hung jury.
In January, Plummer was tried again for the same offenses, except failure to control speed. This time he was found guilty on all counts, as well as of reckless driving and negligent driving.
Plummer was sentenced in late February to three years in prison and five years of unsupervised probation upon release.
But Martha Weisheit, the assistant public defender for Plummer, appealed the conviction, saying the evidence for the automobile manslaughter and reckless driving charges was insufficient.
Thieme agreed, writing that to convict someone of manslaughter the state must show “gross negligence,” which is defined as “a wanton or reckless disregard for human life.” The court said since there was no excessive speed or erratic driving, Plummer was not negligent in the operation of his car.
The court also said that even though flight is a factor to consider, Plummer’s choice “not to stop and render aid, while morally inexcusable, may have amounted to no more than the manifestation of his own fright and disbelief.”
The opinion noted that there is “little doubt in our minds that the actions of the appellant on December 22, 1995 were reprehensible, immoral and callous. We can think of many other terms to describe the appellant for being directly responsible for the death of a 12-year-old girl…. `Murderer,’ however, is not one of those terms.”
Gary E. Bair, chief of the criminal appeals division in the attorney general’s office, said a further appeal was likely and that the decision would be made in the next couple of weeks. Plummer remains incarcerated at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown. His lawyer could not be reached for comment Thursday. -30-