Lawyer wants to keep Myspace page out of trial in scooter rider's death
By Shavonne Potts
If Alstin Vanderford and five other east Rowan friends ever go to trial in the death of a scooter rider, his attorney says prosecutors should not be able to talk about Vanderford’s Myspace page and his references to drinking and partying.
Salisbury Attorney James Davis has filed a motion asking the judge in the pending manslaughter case to prohibit prosecutors from mentioning the social networking Web site and any witnesses from testifying about the site.
In another motion, Davis also asks the judge to bar references to Vanderford’s previous court record.
Davis and Darrin Jordan, the attorney for codefendant Eric Taylor, have filed extensive motions asking prosecutors to disclose all evidence against their clients, including wreck, autopsy and toxicology reports.
Vanderford and Taylor, both 21, are two of six charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jason Brown. The other defendants are Brandon Lowery, 23, Patsy Morgan, 21, Rachel Miller, 21, and Derek Talbert, 23.
If convicted as charged, the six could get as much as 10 years in prison, according to court documents. In June, District Attorney Bill Kenerly filed a plea agreement he has reached with defendants Miller, Morgan and Talbert, to dismiss or reduce their charges in exchange for their testimony against Vanderford, Taylor and Lowery.
In statements filed this month in court, Vanderford, Taylor and Lowery told Sheriff’s Office investigators the six friends were riding together about 2 a.m. May 12, 2006, when some of those in a vehicle threw eggs at Brown, 27, who was riding a motorized scooter along U.S. 52 between Rockwell and Granite Quarry. The scooter and the group’s sport utility vehicle collided, and the group in the SUV drove away. Brown died at the scene.
In statements given to Sheriff’s Office investigators, Vanderford, Taylor and Lowery admitted drinking that night.
No statements that Morgan, Miller or Talbert gave sheriff’s investigators have been placed in court files.
In a motion filed this month, attorney Davis said the state may try to include information about Vanderford’s Myspace page that had references like “two tattoos,” “beer pong champion,” “beer drinkers make better lovers (a license plate appearance),” “partying” among other images and words.
He said such images and words are excessively prejudicial, irrelevant and “improperly arouses a jury’s emotional responses.”
District Attorney Bill Kenerly made reference to Myspace in at least one other trial. During the 2007 trial of Christopher Crocker, who was charged with taking police on a high-speed car chase and causing a wreck that killed a Salisbury woman, Kenerly asked a psychologist if he’d looked at the teen’s Myspace page.
In another motion, Davis wants Vanderford’s record kept out of any trial. He said the record should not be used to call his client’s integrity into question.
According to the document, Vanderford received a prayer for judgment in 2004 when he was convicted of ethnic intimidation, a misdemeanor. In that highly publicized case, Vanderford and three other teens, none of whom is involved in Brown’s death, threw water on a Wendy’s clerk at the drive-through window. The teens videotaped themselves and directed racial slurs toward the young woman employee, who was black.
In October 2006, Vanderford was convicted of underage possession of a malt beverage, also a misdemeanor. He received a prayer for judgment in Cabarrus County.
“… The defendant prays the court to preclude the state from introducing, questioning or mentioning the above charges …,” the motion says.
In another motion filed this month, Davis asks the judge to prohibit any testimony or argument before jurors about Brown being egged.
“… There is no evidence that either the deceased or his Moped were struck by any eggs thrown by any of the co-defendants herein,” the documents shows.
Davis wants to be allowed to introduce evidence that could show the wreck was caused by the victim. He wants to include Brown’s previous convictions for driving while impaired and possessing an open container in the passenger area.
Brown’s death was originally classified as accidental, but the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office reopened the case and got permission to exhume Brown’s body.
Notes provided in the court file indicate the medical examiner who examined Brown’s exhumed body states the color change in Brown’s liver indicates he was still drinking.
In another motion filed recently, Jordan, Taylor’s attorney, requested a hearing prior to the prosecutor introducing any expert witnesses. Jordan argues that most conclusions about the wreck were reached at least six months after it occurred and would be “speculative.” He says those conclusions don’t take into consideration if Brown, the scooter rider, was impaired and simply lost control of the scooter.
There has not been any indication from any interviews or reports that Brown was impaired.
In other motions, Jordan also asks for:
– An autopsy and toxicology report. The autopsy was performed in January 2007. He said he asked for the autopsy information twice by letter and once during a court hearing.
– Any statements made by Taylor or the other co-defendants, investigator’s notes and test results.
– Specific charges Morgan, Miller and Talbert will likely face if the District Attorney’s Office proceeds with the plea agreement with defendants Miller, Morgan and Talbert.
“Specific information is needed to prepare for cross examination of said co-defendants so that the defendants may provide the jury … a comparison of the punishments the co-defendants considered in deciding whether to testify for the state,” the motion said.
He also asked for a 55-page report from the N.C. Highway Patrol’s collision reconstruction unit of the May 12, 2006, accident.
Salisbury attorney James Randolph is representing Lowery.
The trial is set for Aug. 18.