Defense files motion to dismiss portions of indictment for fatal crash

The defense filed a motion Friday to dismiss portions of an indictment of the man accused of negligent driving that lead to a fatal crash, alleging that the indictment was based on false testimony.

On Aug. 31, a vehicle driven by Christopher Trinity Hill, 22, of Westminster, was involved in a collision on Md. 140 in Westminster that killed Mary Ann Christopher, 68, of the Virgin Islands, according to court records.

A witness told police that the vehicle Mary Ann Christopher was a passenger in was making a left turn onto Cranberry Road with a green arrow when it was struck by Hill, according to court records.

Hill was indicted by a grand jury April 3 on one count of manslaughter by vehicle and one count of criminally negligent manslaughter by vehicle, according to court records. He was also charged with multiple traffic violations, including failure to obey a traffic control device and texting while driving.

Hill's attorney, Alex Cruickshank, of the Carroll County Public Defender's Office, filed a motion Friday to dismiss the charges of texting while driving, manslaughter by vehicle and criminally negligent manslaughter by vehicle.

Hill also faces possession of marijuana, possession of controlled dangerous substance paraphernalia, negligent driving and reckless driving charges stemming from the Aug. 31 crash, according to court records.

The investigating officer, Trooper First Class James Lantz, of the Maryland State Police Westminster barrack, testified before the grand jury that Hill was texting immediately prior to the crash. In his crash report, Lantz listed texting while driving as a contributing cause of the collision, according to the motion.

In the motion, Cruickshank alleges that the state learned, after the grand jury indicted Hill, that Lantz's conclusion that Hill had sent a text message near the time of the crash proved to be erroneous; the state failed to inform the defense for "some weeks."

Because the accusation of texting while driving was "the sole basis for the State's most viable theory of gross or criminal negligence," Cruickshank argues that the erroneous information formed the basis for the grand jury's decision, according to the motion.

Without the argument that Hill was sending a text message right before the collision, "the state cannot, as a matter of law, demonstrate sufficient negligence on Mr. Hill's part," according to the motion.

It is a violation of Hill's Fifth Amendment Due Process right to proceed to trial based on an indictment that was obtained through false testimony, the motion states.

The motion further alleges that the Carroll County State's Attorney's Office improperly withheld the knowledge that Lantz's testimony before the grand jury proved to be inaccurate.

The state is required to disclose any mitigating or exculpatory evidence to the defense under the Maryland Rules.

"The allegations in the motion are inaccurate and will be addressed at the proper time," Senior Assistant State's Attorney Adam Wells said in an official statement Monday. Wells also said that the state complied with discovery rules by disclosing the information regarding Lantz's testimony to Cruickshank.

The state will file a written response to the motion and expects the issue will be litigated during the criminal motions hearing scheduled for July 28, according to Wells.

If a judge does grant the motion, the state may convene another grand jury and attempt to have Hill re-charged on the dismissed counts. Should the judge dismiss with prejudice, however, this would preclude the state from bringing the same charges again, Wells said. An attempt to indict Hill again would be made without using the information that the state now knows to be incorrect.

The victim's family has expressed frustration with the investigation, as well as the amount of time it took to charge Hill in the death of Mary Ann.

"Will there be any justice for my sister?" Jackie Golden, the victim's sister, said Monday.

For months, Golden, joined by other family members, has been working to change Maryland law to require drug and alcohol testing of anyone involved in a fatal or catastrophic car accident. Police allegedly found an open container of beer and personal use amounts of marijuana in Hill's vehicle but did not test him, according to court records.

"That needs to be changed," Golden said. "It needs to be changed because it's not just my sister that has been impacted by this."

"I don't want it to happen to anybody else," Golden added.

Cruickshank's motion references the "substantial and vocal political pressure [on the state]" exercised by Christopher's family and friends to pursue the case, including contacting the media and staging demonstrations to raise awareness.

Members of the Christopher family also met with the state to discuss the case, according to the motion.

Wells said it is not uncommon for the state to meet with the families of victims during an ongoing case.

"It's uncommon for us not to meet with victims and victims' families," he said. "We always do that. It's our job."

The state cannot comment on the specifics of an ongoing investigation, according to the official statement.

"Rest assured that as the investigation continues, we have, and will, continue to take all appropriate measures to see that justice is served," the statement concludes.