Judge to decide fatal crash case | TheUnion.com

Judge to decide fatal crash case

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A judge, and not a jury, will decide the fate of a Grass Valley area man accused of vehicular manslaughter in a 2001 crash that killed one man and left another brain damaged.

Raymond P. Herve, 46, sought what’s called a court trial last week. The proceeding starts today before Judge Ersel Edwards in Nevada County Superior Court.

With no need for jury selection, expect a swifter trial, said Deputy District Attorney Dave Walters. Finding impartial jurors, particularly in cases with media attention or serious charges, can take two or more days.

“I don’t know what the public really thinks about (Herve’s) case. I know that it’s a case that could arouse strong feelings in jurors one way or the other,” Walters said.

Herve’s lawyer, Ron Lange of Grass Valley, couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

Opting for a court trial has strategic tradeoffs, said David W. Miller, a professor at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.

Sometimes, despite a judge’s order, jurors might not be able to ignore unfairly prejudicial evidence that slips out at trial, Miller said. Having witnesses judged by how they appear is another risk.

On the flip side, Miller said, “All it takes is one or two jurors to prevent a conviction.”

Also, jurors often aren’t as savvy or cynical as judges in scrutinizing trial evidence and arguments, he said.

Meanwhile, Herve’s case will be difficult to prove because the evidence is “very circumstantial,” Walters said

Herve is accused of helping cause a March 7, 2001, crash on Highway 20 near the county fairgrounds that killed 22-year-old Jesse Roberts of Grass Valley.

The California Highway Patrol alleges that Herve and a third driver, 62-year-old Bruce Kirkpatrick of Nevada City, raced west on the highway after Kirkpatrick cut off Herve on the Golden Center Freeway’s southbound exit ramp.

Herve allegedly pulled his Ford Thunderbird in front of Kirkpatrick’s pickup and braked, causing Kirkpatrick to skid into the oncoming lane and strike Roberts’ Nissan sedan, according to the CHP.

Witnesses claimed seeing events before and after the crash, but not the actual impact between the Kirkpatrick and Roberts vehicles, Walters said. There’s no evidence the Kirkpatrick and Herve vehicles ever touched, he added.

Because of his injuries, Kirkpatrick has been deemed incompetent to stand trial.

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