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Driver convicted in death of JHU student asks for new hearing

Highway and Road DisastersTransportation DisastersJustice SystemJohns Hopkins University

Thomas Lee Meighan Jr., the serial drunk driver who pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter last year in the fatal hit-and-run of a Johns Hopkins University student, has asked for a hearing in Baltimore Circuit Court, claiming he was pressured into a plea deal and is, in fact, innocent.

"Unfortunately, a woman walked into the path of my truck causing the loss of her life," Meighan wrote, alleging that an accident-reconstruction report proves that 20-year-old Miriam Frankl jaywalked to her death on Oct. 16, 2009.

"I am truly sorry that a life has been lost, but it was not of my doing," said Meighan, who's serving a 13-year sentence in connection with the killing.

He doesn't address the multiple witness accounts identifying his truck and its driver as wreaking havoc throughout the city on that autumn day, or the reason he lied to police after turning himself in days later, claiming at the time that he had lent his vehicle to a friend.

The court filing, which Baltimore prosecutors have asked a judge to dismiss as improper and flawed, appears to follow a pattern for Meighan, 42, who's been convicted of at least nine drunken-driving violations, including one involving a snow tractor. He has frequently pleaded for leniency and asked for second chances after he has been locked up.

In a separate letter sent to The Baltimore Sun in May, his first media statements since his arrest, he claims he ran from the scene after striking Frankl, who died 11 hours later, because he was "frightened and in shock."

He said he wasn't "drunk, on drugs, or speeding," and he asked for an apology from reporters "for painting me as this Drunken Monster to the public which I AM NOT." He goes on to say he's a generous, caring and loving person who would do anything for anyone." As proof, he says he "once gave a homeless person $200.00 because she needed it more than [he] did."

Meighan's criminal record also includes convictions for marijuana possession, battery, disorderly conduct, theft and escape from a halfway house. His license has been repeatedly revoked and returned, and he was out on bail from another alcohol-involved hit-and-run at the time of the collision with Frankl.

Circuit Judge Timothy Doory sentenced Meighan to 13 years for crimes relating to Frankl's death and gave him an additional nine-year suspended sentence in the separate hit-and-run, to which Meighan also pleaded guilty.

"You have caused immense harm, and you have to pay the price," Doory said at the time, noting that the "legitimate" and lengthy penalty may finally lead to a "turning point" in Meighan's life.

But instead of accepting responsibility, Meighan appears to be shunning it.

He claims he wasn't at fault for the earlier hit-and-run either, in both his letter to The Sun and the court filing.

"How ironic, with my previous indiscretions [as] a young man I would be incarcerated for two accidents I was not responsible for," Meighan wrote in the letter to The Sun.

In the court filing, he blames his public defender, Julie Shapiro, for his decision to plead guilty, claiming she pressured him into it by "indicating possible worse charges." Shapiro did not respond to a request for comment.

Mark Cheshire, a spokesman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office, declined to comment on Meighan's court claims, because the matter is pending, he said. And Frankl's family also chose to remain silent, until a judge rules on the matter.

Meighan claims in his legal filing that his lawyer "withheld" a December 2010 forensic collision analysis report from him that he said "clearly shows that I was not responsible" for Frankl's death. He said he didn't review it until January of this year.

The analysis, by a man who was expected to be called as a defense witness, claims Meighan had the right of way and that Frankl "used poor judgment" in attempting to crossSt. Paul Street"mid-block and outside a marked crosswalk" about 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 16, 2009. It concludes that Meighan, whose license was suspended at the time, couldn't have avoided the collision, which was caused by Frankl's "failure to yield to the truck."

Had the case gone to trial, the information would likely have been submitted to the court and challenged by prosecutors, who were prepared to call witnesses claiming Meighan terrified Baltimore that day. According to police records and 911 reports, a half-dozen people saw Meighan's truck running red lights and tailgating drivers before and after the crash.

Meighan also submitted a letter from Nationwide Insurance, confirming that its client caused an accident in July 2009 by pulling out in front of Meighan's truck. Police say Meighan abandoned his truck after that crash and fled the scene. He was arrested and found to have a blood-alcohol content of about 0.09 — above the 0.08 legal limit — two hours later.

He pleaded guilty to an alcohol offense, failure to immediately stop at an accident scene and driving an uninsured vehicle in that case, but now claims he did none of those things.

The petition is before Circuit Judge Michael Reed, who has yet to rule on its request for a hearing or the state's motion to dismiss the case.

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

twitter.com/triciabishop

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