As the defense wrapped up its case on Thursday, Jamie Petterson testified on his own behalf, telling the jury he was looking over to get his soda and that the DVD player in his pickup was not playing when his vehicle collided with another, killing an Anchorage couple in 2002.
Erwin "Jamie" Petterson Jr., 29, of Kenai, is on trial in Kenai Superior Court, accused of causing the deaths of Robert Weiser, 60, and Donna Weiser, 56, of Anchorage, in a fiery crash on the Seward Highway on Oct. 12, 2002.
According to an Alaska State Trooper report, Petterson and a passenger were watching an in-dash DVD movie and Petterson's northbound Ford F-150 crossed the centerline into the southbound lane, hitting the Weisers' Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The jury heard final evidence Thursday afternoon and was excused until Monday morning, when attorneys will present final arguments in the case.
Assistant District Attorney June Stein and defense attorneys Chuck Robinson and Eric Derleth are expected to meet today to formulate instructions that will be given to the jurors before they begin their deliberations.
When Robinson asked Petterson what happened on the day of the crash, Petterson said, "I remember looking over to get my soda; I looked up and the saw the Jeep coming at me; I said, 'Oh God.'
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Assistant district attorney June Stein listens to directions from Judge Charles Cranston (not pictured) Thursday.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"I came to in the van," Petterson said.
From the testimony of others during the trial, which began July 22, the jury learned that Petterson's vehicle swerved to the left and the Weisers' vehicle swerved into the same direction.
The two collided head-on and the Weisers were killed.
Petterson and his passenger, Jonathan Douglas, were injured as their vehicle spiraled into the air, landing on the southbound lane of the highway.
Douglas managed to get out on the passenger side and went around to the driver's side of the Ford where he helped Petterson climb out through the window.
The two then went to the van of a motorist who stopped to help.
Other motorists tried to pull the Weisers from the Jeep and managed to get Donna Weiser's body out, but not Robert Weiser's before the Jeep burst into flames.
The Weisers died at the scene.
Petterson and Douglas were flown to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, where Petterson was treated for a broken back, fractured shoulder, broken bones in his foot and a broken nose.
Douglas' injuries were less serious.
The state argued that Douglas called his ex-wife from the hospital and told her he and Petterson were watching a DVD movie at the time of the collision.
Douglas testified that he never said anything of the sort and Petterson denied that the DVD player was turned on.
During questioning by Stein, Petterson said music was playing on a CD player.
He also said he did not remember being interviewed by a trooper or an emergency medical technician at the site of the accident and did not remember telling them he didn't know if he was on the Weisers' side of the road.
"You don't remember losing control of your vehicle?" Stein asked.
"Not at all," Petterson said.
Originally, Petterson was charged with four counts of second-degree murder. State law allows for one set of charges saying the defendant knew his conduct was substantially certain to cause the deaths of the victims and did cause their deaths.
The other set of charges say he knowingly engaged in conduct that manifested extreme indifference to the value of human life and caused the deaths of the Weisers.
On Tuesday, after the state finished presenting its witnesses, Robinson asked the court to acquit Petterson of the murder charges.
Judge Charles Cranston denied the motion, but reduced two of the murder charges to manslaughter. The reduced charges were the ones claiming Petterson knew his conduct was certain to cause death or serious injury to the Weisers.
Cranston said he will notify the jury of the reduced charges, but to prevent influencing their verdict, he would not tell them exactly why the charges were reduced.
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