A 29-year-old Placentia man was convicted today of second-degree murder in a drug-fueled crash in Laguna Niguel that killed Mara Steves, a community activist, who was walking a lost dog at the time..
Adam Harrison Hall faces about 20 years to life in prison for causing the Feb. 13, 2011, crash at Moulton Parkway and Nueva Vista Drive, Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino said. Sentencing is set for April 5.
Jurors deliberated for about a day before finding Hall guilty of second- degree murder, forgery of a prescription and two counts of obtaining or possessing drugs secured by a forged prescription, all felonies. He was also found guilty of a misdemeanor count of driving under the influence.
Hall's attorney and Pino agreed Hall was behind the wheel of a Ford Explorer that collided with another SUV about 11:10 a.m. that day just over two years ago.
The dispute was over Hall's claim that he was westbound on Nueva Vista Drive making a left turn when his vehicle was T-boned. Pino argued that the defendant was northbound on Moulton and T-boned another vehicle before careening into pedestrian Mara Lynnes Steves.
"I'm pleased with the jury's verdict. They held the defendant accountable for the murder of Mara Lynnes Steves," Pino said outside the courtroom.
Hall's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Richard Cheung, declined comment.
Hall pleaded guilty in March 2008 to misdemeanor driving under the influence related to an October 2007 collision and was sentenced to three years of informal probation and had to participate in a program warning about the dangers of driving under the influence.
On May 8, 2008, he was arrested again for driving under the influence and pleaded guilty that October to another misdemeanor DUI and was sentenced to 90 days in jail, five years of informal probation and was ordered to complete drug and alcohol programs.
In both cases, Hall was warned by judges that he could face a murder charge if he was to cause a deadly crash while intoxicated, Pino said.
Hall was speeding faster than 60 mph north on Moulton and ran the red light at Nueva Vista before the collision, Pino said. A blood test showed he had methamphetamine, valium and Xanax in his system, the prosecutor added.
Hall told investigators that he was northbound on Moulton and thought he had the green light, Pino said.
Dr. Steven James, who was behind the wheel of the other vehicle involved in the crash, was eastbound on Nueva Vista, Pino said.
Steves, 48, who had been trying to find the owner of a stray Labrador retriever, was slammed into a block wall and died of her injuries. Veterinarians were able to save the dog, Max.
James suffered severe bruising in the crash and his passenger Anna Gaffney sustained a broken collarbone.
To make the case that Hall was northbound on Moulton, Pino relied on surveillance video from a Shell gas station down the street that he said showed Hall exiting the business in his vehicle at 11:08 a.m.
Complicating the case, however, was a "law enforcement error," in which investigators grouped witnesses together at the scene, giving them an opportunity to compare notes and mix up some facts in the case, Pino said. An accident reconstruction expert testified that the skid marks and damage to the vehicles prove what happened, Pino said.
Cheung had his own expert testify that the damage to the vehicles showed Hall was making a left turn on Nueva Vista when his vehicle was T-boned.
As for statements Hall made to investigators, he was "in shock" following the collision and was taken to Mission Hospital to be treated for a broken nose and leg and told authorities he did not recall what happened, Cheung said.
Hall's dependence on prescription narcotics grew out of the depression and anxiety he felt when his father took his own life in 2006, his attorney said.
After the collision, Hall would take the train to work, which is when he met Elizabeth Rene Parker, who worked in a physician's office and helped him get hold of prescription drugs illegally for lingering pain from the crash, Cheung said.
Parker pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison.
- City News Service