After deliberating less than three hours, a jury on Wednesday convicted a 28-year-old Glendale man of manslaughter for driving drunk and killing two mothers and their two daughters as they waited on a traffic island to cross a street.
William Conway, a former parks and recreation worker, sat motionless in a gray suit, his shoulders hunched and his head bowed, as a Pasadena Superior Court clerk read six verdicts in a packed but hushed courtroom.
Judge Carol J. Fieldhouse told Conway he could remain under house arrest at the home of his mother until a March 7 sentencing. He was released on $10,000 bail in March, 1989, and has since been monitored by an electronic device attached to his wrist that prevents him from leaving the house.
Richard Gilman, former president of Occidental College, served as foreman for the jury that convicted Conway on all charges, four counts of gross vehicular manslaughter and two counts of causing an accident with injuries while driving under the influence of alcohol. Conway faces up to 18 years in prison.
When Fieldhouse concluded his instructions, Conway and Deputy Public Defender Michael Allensworth rushed out a back door. Conway's mother, Virginia, and his sister, Louise, sat stunned in the back of the courtroom. All around them, jubilant families and friends of the victims jumped from their seats, hugging each other.
"It's over, it's done and the system works," said William Cramer, who lost his wife and 9-year-old daughter in the July 13, 1988, accident. "I don't even have anger anymore.
"Honestly, right now I feel a little sorry for Mr. Conway," Cramer said. "He has a lot more to go through while the rest of us are going to be doing good things."
Conway's family left the courtroom in tears without commenting on the jury verdict.
Deputy Dist. Atty. James E. Rogan successfully argued during eight days of trial that Conway was legally drunk and traveling nearly 80 m.p.h. when he hit five pedestrians waiting on a dirt traffic island to cross Verdugo Road.
Patricia Carr, 36; her daughter, Caren, 6; Valerie Cramer, 32, and her daughter, Brianna, were killed in the accident. Billy Cramer, now 13, was able to dive from the path of the speeding car and suffered only a fractured finger. During the trial, Billy Cramer had tearfully recounted the accident to jurors.
Allensworth said he will appeal, charging that jurors reached a conviction based on emotion. He said unfair and inappropriate evidence was used in the trial, including a graphic police videotape of the accident scene that showed the victims' contorted bodies. At the time the videotape was shown, Allensworth objected but was overruled.
During the trial, Allensworth acknowledged that his client had been drinking, but said the alcohol had not entered Conway's bloodstream and intoxicated him until after the accident. He argued that Conway was merely driving too fast around a dangerous curve and that the island was unprotected and invited such accidents.
The city of Glendale last July added traffic signals, guardrails, a concrete curb and a memorial rose garden to the island, partially financed by private donations. Fieldhouse had instructed jurors to drive through the intersection and form their own conclusions about its safety.
"I'm angry," Allensworth said. "Obviously the jury acted more out of passion than intellect. I mean, what if there had been five escaped robbers from San Quentin on that traffic island? Would they have reached that verdict?"
On Monday, Rogan had given a dramatic, silent closing argument by placing cups of beer on the jury's banister, then angrily snapping his fingers to indicate how quickly the victims had lost their lives.
But some jurors said the performance had little effect on their decision. Juror Carrol Harris said another juror, a reformed alcoholic, told the others on the panel that the smell of the beer on the banister had made him sick. Another juror suggested it was a waste of good beer, Harris said.
Harris--who during jury selection had described himself as a "Pentecostal holy roller"--looked around for Conway after the trial, saying he "wanted to guide the poor boy to God."
"It appears as though he was remorseful," said Harris, a Department of Water and Power employee. "I think everybody kind of looked at the fact that he was a young fellow who made a mistake. But as Mr. Rogan said, a person's got to be responsible for his actions."
Rogan smiled as William Cramer and Patrick Carr, who also lost a wife and daughter in the accident, heartily shook his hand. But he told reporters the conviction brought him little more than relief.
"The case worked, but there's no pleasure in this," the prosecutor said. "I just wanted to get the message across."