In the wake of a deadlocked jury, the Ventura County district attorney's office on Wednesday asked for a retrial in the case of a Somis woman accused of killing three youths as she was driving drunk on U.S. 101 last March. But a judge reserved decision on the matter for a week.
Ventura Superior Court Judge Robert Soares is to decide Dec. 1 on whether to retry Diane Helen Mannes, 35, on charges of second-degree murder. Last week, a jury deadlocked, with seven members voting for conviction and five opting for acquittal.
Prosecutor Donald Glynn said that if Soares denies the retrial, District Attorney Michael Bradbury will refile murder charges, rather than offering Mannes the opportunity to plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter. "Bradbury believed the facts convicted her of second-degree murder, I believe it and seven of the jurors believed it," Glynn said. "So we want to take another shot at it."
The family of Joshua Oxenrider, a 19-year-old Camarillo man who died in the accident, applauded the prosecution's persistence.
"I'm hoping the judge will let the trial be reset," said Joshua's mother, Linda, who testified during the first trial and attended daily. "If not, we'll just start all over again. I'd like to find a jury who will hold a drunk driver accountable for the crimes they have committed."
Glynn acknowledged Wednesday that prosecutors won't do much differently a second time, but will hire their own psychiatrist to evaluate Mannes, who testified that she was so drunk and so depressed that she couldn't have realized how dangerous her driving would be. Such a realization is necessary in order to prove second-degree murder.
"It's a big philosophical problem," Glynn said. "You're asking the jury to label a drunk driver as a murderer. And you have to have pretty outrageous facts to make it work."
Mannes, who remains in jail on $250,000 bail, could face 45 years to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.
The sentence would be fitting, say prosecutors, pointing to testimony that they say highlights the aggravating circumstances in the case.
Mannes testified that on the night of March 31, she had gone to Westlake Village to confront her father over a long-simmering money dispute. She stopped to buy a bottle of vodka and some orange juice. She drank for courage in the parking lot before she got back in the car and headed to her father's home.
When there was no answer at his door, she headed back toward Somis, down the steep, curvy Conejo Grade.
Meanwhile, six young men on their way back to Camarillo from Thousand Oaks had just left their car disabled with a flat tire on the freeway, and had begun walking down the grade.
Mannes, with what was later measured as a blood-alcohol content of 0.20, came around a curve in the slow lane. She suddenly swerved to the left, then back to the right. She grazed the car the boys had left and plowed into them as they walked.
Scott Mullins, 20, of Mansfield, Ohio, was dead at the scene. Jacob Eugene Boyd, 14, and Joshua Daniel Oxenrider, both of Camarillo, died soon after. Jacob's older half-brother, Jeremy, 19 at the time, suffered a punctured lung and Jeffrey Botens, then 16, also of Camarillo, suffered major injuries.
Anthony Dunn, 21, of Thousand Oaks, Jacob Boyd's stepbrother and Jeremy Boyd's half-brother, escaped injury. He was on the other side of the guard rail and was the only one to see the accident. He sees it still.
"He has these awful dreams full of blood and guts, and horrible headaches," said Elaine Boyd of Thousand Oaks, the mother of Anthony Dunn and Jeremy Boyd. "Anthony was always very outgoing. He had a lot of friends, and he was a good athlete. Now, he just pretty much goes to work and comes home.
"He keeps saying, 'If only I had done this or if only I had done that.' It's difficult for him to sleep or keep his mind on work," she said.
Like Dunn and the other survivors, Jeremy Boyd is filled with anger, frustration and confusion.
"I'd like to talk to her and see how she feels," he said. "I'd like to know what she's thinking, if she's feeling any remorse or thinking about our families going through hell."
Jeremy and Jacob had shared a room in their father's house in Camarillo. "It's just not the same any more. It's quieter here," Jeremy said.
Joshua Oxenrider had been Jeremy's best friend since early boyhood, Elaine Boyd said. Joshua was one of two boys in a family of seven. The group spent much time around the Oxenrider house, working for hours on dirt bikes in the garage, said Joshua's mother, Linda Oxenrider.
"You wouldn't believe it could be quiet around here, but it is," she said. "There's nobody now to eat all the leftovers."
The family misses Scott Mullins too. He was a friend of Joshua's who stayed at the house--somebody he brought home one day because Scott was having trouble with his own family.
"Josh was always bringing kids home who needed a place to stay or a meal," Linda Oxenrider said.