NEWPORT BEACH — Danny Ornelas, who served two years in prison for careening into a Newport Beach woman and killing her as she stood with her children outside their home, was convicted Friday of driving under the influence.
The jury deliberated less than 20 minutes in Municipal Court in Newport Beach.
Ornelas, 26, of Huntington Beach, was found guilty of joy riding while drunk with his friends in February, near the site of his 1988 crash. He faces up to six months in County Jail and a $1,000 fine, the district attorney's office said.
In 1989, Ornelas was convicted of killing Debbie Killelea and faced a sentence of five to 10 years in prison. But that conviction for grossly negligent manslaughter was overturned by an appellate court on the grounds that the Superior Court judge had given improper instructions to the jury.
Three years later, Ornelas was convicted a second time on a lesser charge of vehicular manslaughter for Killelea's death and was sentenced to two years in jail. Because he had already spent two years in prison while the case was being appealed, Ornelas was set free the same day.
That turn of events sparked an outcry from the community for tougher treatment of drunk drivers.
"He never even said he was sorry," said Julia Kilfoy, Killelea's mother, who has been at all of Ornelas' court hearings since her daughter was killed.
Ornelas was arrested again about 1:30 a.m. Feb. 12 when a Newport Beach police officer spotted him and his friends "playing cat and mouse" in two sports cars at speeds of about 60 mph through a quiet Newport Beach neighborhood, Officer Ed Walsh said.
During the three-day trial, Walsh testified that he pulled beside Ornelas and his friends when they parked in an empty lot, and found three unopened beers in a 12-pack case in Ornelas' car and one opened container.
He then conducted a field sobriety test on Ornelas.
The driver, said Walsh, "swayed noticeably" when told to lean his head back with eyes closed and count to 30.
At the police station, a test showed Ornelas' blood-alcohol level was 0.13%, well over the legal limit of 0.08%, Walsh testified.
Though public defender Jeannette Noceda made numerous attempts during the trial to discredit Walsh's methods of arrest and to suggest that the Police Department's breath-testing equipment was faulty, the jury was never swayed, said juror Julie Mamath of Newport Beach.
"It took us about 15 to 20 minutes to make up our minds," she said. "There was very little discussion. I had no doubt in my mind all along."
Mamath said the jury did not know that Ornelas had been arrested before.
"Even if he didn't have that history, it was a good decision," she said. "We shouldn't be soft on people who drive drunk.
"This guy obviously needs to get help. I can't believe he even drinks after what happened before."
A sentencing hearing will be held on Wednesday.
Kilfoy, Killelea's mother, said Ornelas will "never get what I think is enough for him. I'll never get over what he so carelessly did to my daughter."