New trial ordered in ’03 vehicle homicide case — (Casper Star-Tribune)

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Casper Star-Tribune

By JOAN BARRON,  Star-Tribune capital bureau 

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A man who has been serving a prison sentence for his Natrona County District Court conviction of aggravated vehicular homicide in the death of his passenger more than two years ago will get a new trial.

The Wyoming Supreme Court last week reversed the jury conviction of Cody Lee Edwards, 26, on grounds the district court improperly excluded evidence relevant to his defense.

Edwards claimed the victim, David Southworth, who was drunk and depressed, caused the accident by grabbing the steering wheel of Edwards’ pickup.

The pickup hit barriers on both sides of Interstate 25 just north of the Poplar Street exit before rolling on the roof.

Southworth was partially ejected from the truck and died of his injuries en route to the hospital.

Edwards testified that he consumed about 10 drinks the evening of Feb. 5, 2005 before he and Southworth returned from Northern Dreams, a strip club north of Casper.

After a four-day trial in August 2005, a jury found Edwards guilty of aggravated vehicular homicide. Judge David Park sentenced him to prison for eight to 14 years in November 2005.

According to the Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion written by Justice Michael Golden, Edwards sought to prove his defense by offering the after-accident discovery of antidepressant medication in Southworth’s belongings left at Edwards’ residence.

Edwards also wanted to introduce testimony from Schon Demel, a friend of both Edwards and Southworth, that two weeks before the fatal accident “a drunk and depressed Southworth had grabbed the steering wheel of Demel’s vehicle, causing the vehicle to briefly leave the roadway,” the opinion said.

“The evidence of Southworth’s prior actions was crucial to Edwards’ defense that his conduct was not the proximate cause of the accident and Southworth’s death,” Golden wrote.

Natrona County Assistant District Attorney Brian Christiansen said Tuesday that after the Supreme Court mandate is issued, a date will be set in district court for Edwards’ arraignment and plea.

Edwards will be re-assigned a new public defender, Tim Cotton, to represent him.

“We anticipate going back to trial,” Christiansen said .

Tina Kerin, appellate counsel for the state public defenders’ office, said Edwards began serving his sentence immediately.

He is currently at the Wyoming Honor Farm at Riverton, said Department of Corrections spokesperson Melinda Brazzale.