A Missouri woman's five-year prison sentence for a fatal DWI crash was tossed after her attorney successfully argued the trial was mishandled and the woman on trial was driving the wrong way on a highway at 3 a.m. because she was drugged and raped.
Kelli Smith, 32, killed 35-year-old father Thomas Sullivan II in the head-on crash on Feb. 25, 2012. Police said her blood alcohol level was just over the legal limit and charged her with involuntary manslaughter, leading to Smith's eventual conviction in December 2014 on that charge, the Missourian reported.
But on Dec. 22, the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals tossed Smith's conviction, saying the jury wasn't properly informed on how to consider evidence, and police did not properly handle blood samples. Those samples weren't refrigerated until two weeks after the crash, and weren't tested until March 6, 2012, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
There were other unexplained factors in the case: Smith, who was badly injured in the crash, was naked from the waist down when she was pulled from her mangled SUV. She doesn't remember the crash, or a minor accident she caused a half hour before the head-on crash, or anything about that night beyond being at a bar and driving male acquaintances home afterward, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Smith's cellphone, purse and one shoe were missing, there were matching bruises on her wrists, genital trauma documented at the hospital, and hand prints on the ceiling of her car, reports said.
Jennifer Bukowsky, Smith's lawyer, successfully argued that Smith was "involuntarily intoxicated," and said her client was drugged and raped earlier that night.
“The jury has to look at whether her actions were reasonable under the circumstances,” Bukowsky told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Kelli would not have been behind the wheel going the wrong way on Highway 70 in Montgomery County had she not been forcibly raped and/or involuntarily drugged in Boone County that night.”
Bukowsky also argued that officers from the Missouri Highway Patrol didn't correctly do their jobs during the investigation, waiting seven hours to take blood samples from Smith, failing to take items like her pants as evidence, and failing to look into the bruising and trauma that was documented by doctors, the St. Loius Post-Dispatch said.
Still, prosecutors -- who haven't decided on whether to push for a retrial -- don't believe those facts exonerate Smith.
“Nothing that happened earlier that evening excused this conduct,” Assistant Attorney General Gregory Barnes wrote in an appellate court brief.
Sullivan's family agrees.
“I’m really so glad that Kelli Smith survived this crash and is now in reasonably good health,” Thomas Sullivan, the victim's father, said. “It’s because I truly could not fathom or want her family to go through what we went through.”