Was Nick Adenhart's Death Murder? Jury Gets Case in Drunk Driving Crash that Killed Angels Pitcher in '09

Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Nick Adenhart throws to the plate during the first inning of their Major League Baseball game against the Oakland Athletics, Wednesday, April 8, 2009, in Anaheim, Calif. Adenhart was killed in an early morning accident on Thursday.
AP Photo/Mark J. Terril
Was Nick Adenheart's Death Murder? Jurors Hear Closing Arguements In Drunk Driving Murder Trial
Nick Adenhart (AP Photo/Mark J. Terril)

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CBS/AP) The attorney for a man charged with murder in the drunk-driving accident that killed Los Angeles Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart and two other people, says her client only took the wheel when his stepbrother failed to fulfill his role as the designated driver.

Andrew Gallo, 23, whose blood-alcohol level was almost three times the legal limit, spent hours drinking beers and shots with his stepbrother before he ran a red light April 9, 2009, killing three of the four passengers in an oncoming car, according to prosecutors.

Gallo pleaded not guilty to three counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of 22-year-old Adenhart, 20-year-old Courtney Stewart and 25-year-old Henry Pearson. The fourth occupant, Jon Wilhite, survived but was severely injured when the impact separated his spine from his skull. Stewart, the driver and Pearson died instantly. Adenhart died later in surgery just hours after pitching six scoreless innings during his season debut with the Angels.

Jacqueline Goodman, Gallo's attorney, claimed that by the time Gallo's stepbrother asked him to drive, Gallo was already too intoxicated to realize it wasn't a good idea.

"He's drinking beer after beer with a ride. He's got a ride," Goodman said. "Drinking to a 0.22 or a 0.24, is it bad? Maybe. But if you do it with no intent to drive, it's not wrong."

Prosecutors say they charged the case as a murder because Gallo had a previous DUI conviction, had specific knowledge of the dangers of drinking and even reportedly signed a court form from an earlier case saying he understood he could be charged with murder if he drove drunk again and killed someone.

Prosecutor Susan Price told jurors Thursday that Gallo "carries the entire burden of this crime. Their deaths lie squarely at his feet."

However, Goodman claimed Price was trying to "dumb down" the murder charge, saying, "Not every death is a murder, and it's the prosecution that has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt."

To win a murder conviction, prosecutors must prove that Gallo acted with implied malice: intentionally drove drunk, acted with a conscious disregard for human life and knew from his personal experience that he could kill someone.

The jury resumes deliberations Friday. Gallo also pleaded not guilty to felony hit-and-run and two other alcohol-related felonies. If convicted on all charges, he could face more than 50 years to life in prison.