By TERRI VERMEULEN KEITH
City News Service
A substance abuse counselor “mowed”' a man down with her car in Torrance after drinking alcohol and drove more than two miles with him embedded in the windshield, a prosecutor said today, but a defense attorney insisted the man jumped on the car and the driver “panicked,” but was not impaired.
“This was not an accident, ladies and gentlemen. ... This was murder,” Deputy District Attorney Saman Ahmadpour told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury in closing arguments of Sherri Lynn Wilkins's trial.
“She didn't just come across Phillip Moreno. She mowed him down,” the prosecutor said. “She knocked him out of his pants. She knocked him out of his shoes.”
The prosecutor told jurors that Wilkins took Moreno as he was “stuck on her windshield for over two miles trying to get home,” arguing that the Torrance woman failed to immediately stop to check on his welfare or to notify authorities what had happened and swerved her car to try to “shake him off.”
“She was clearly intoxicated that evening,” Ahmadpour argued.
Defense attorney Nan Whitfield, however, described Moreno as being drunk, and said her client “did not strike”' Moreno.
“A naked man 20 years her junior jumped on her car. That's the bottom line ...,” Wilkins' lawyer told jurors. “She was panicked, panicked.”
“It's been pretty much proven that she wasn't impaired,” Whitfield said, telling jurors that Wilkins would not have been impaired at the time of the crash by the alcohol she had consumed a few minutes earlier. A blood sample that reflected a 0.15 percent blood-alcohol content was taken about 1 1/2 hours after the collision.
“She is not guilty of any of these offenses,'' the defense attorney told jurors.
Wilkins, 52, is charged with one count each of murder, DUI causing injury, driving with a 0.08 percent or higher blood-alcohol content causing injury and leaving the scene of an accident.
Authorities allege that Wilkins struck Moreno on Torrance Boulevard near Madrid Avenue and drove 2.2 miles with Moreno embedded in the windshield of her car before another motorist directed her to pull over.
Wilkins smoked a cigarette as bystanders tried to help the injured man when she eventually stopped her Mitsubishi Eclipse at Crenshaw Boulevard and 182nd Street on Nov. 24, 2012, Ahmadpour told jurors.
The 31-year-old Torrance resident later died at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
Wilkins' attorney noted that her client repeatedly said while being questioned by police that she hoped Moreno was going to be OK, describing her client as remorseful.
In testimony Wednesday, Wilkins acknowledged that she drank three vodka shots with beer and tomato juice shortly before the collision but maintained that she wasn't drunk at the time.
“It wasn't in front of my car. It was coming onto my car,” she said in describing the impact. “I pretty much just felt the landing of him in my windshield. To me, it felt like he came from the sky.”
Wilkins told jurors she thought it might not be real and that it “took me a while to figure out there's a body on the hood.”
“I tried to feel the skin to see if it was really a body,” she said.
“It was very shocking and very strange. I didn't know what was going on.”
When Deputy District Attorney John Harlan asked her if she thought about jails, institutions and death as she unsealed the alcohol in her car outside her work, Wilkins responded, “No ... I just had a lot of pain and I wanted to feel better.”
Wilkins, who had completed a program to become a substance abuse counselor, testified that she suffers from a degenerative disk disease and was waiting for a knee replacement. She said her ankle was also injured at age 15 in a traffic crash in which she was a passenger, and acknowledged that she had previously battled an addiction to pain medication.
She maintained that she was not feeling the effects of the alcohol she had consumed over what she estimated to be a 15-minute period and that she did not call her husband to pick her up “because I wasn't drunk.”
Wilkins said she vaguely recalled saying after she stopped at Crenshaw Boulevard and 182nd Street that she was trying to take Moreno to the hospital, and acknowledged that she had initially lied to police that she hadn't had anything to drink.
Jurors are expected to get the case some time tomorrow after Harlan wraps up the prosecution's final argument.