Double-fatal Salem crash driver to get retrial

SALEM, Ore. -- One year after her convictions of manslaughter and assault were overturned by the Oregon Court of Appeals, Sophia Downing will stand trial again to face charges that she drove into a crowd of pedestrians in 2010 near Chemeketa Community College while intoxicated, killing two people and injuring a third.

The appellate court issued an opinion on Jan. 28 that reversed the convictions for two counts of first-degree manslaughter and one count of second-degree assault because of faulty jury instructions.

After months of motions and hearings, a nine-day retrial has been scheduled for Jan. 17, 2017.

Downing, 35, was also convicted of driving under the influence of intoxicants and recklessly endangering another person. Those convictions stand.

She was behind the wheel Sept. 23, 2010, when her Chevrolet Blazer jumped a curb on Lancaster Drive NE, drove onto the sidewalk and hit three people.

Francisco Cervantes, 16, and Brittany Green, 18, died from their injuries. A third teenager was severely injured. All three were students at Winema High School, an alternative high school on the Chemeketa campus.

Blood and urine samples taken from Downing that day found multiple prescription drugs in her system, according to expert testimony during her trial in Marion County Circuit Court. Downing was sentenced in April 2012 to 25 years in prison.

The appellate court ruled that jury instructions given during the trial contained prejudicial error, a mistake in the law or in court procedure that affects, or presumptively affects, the outcome of a trial.

To prove the manslaughter and assault charges, the prosecution had to show Downing acted with "extreme indifference to the value of human life."

The Court of Appeals opinion stated: "The instruction allowed the jury to conclude that recklessness alone was sufficient to prove 'extreme indifference to the value of human life.'"

Since the overturned conviction, the defense filed a motion to access notes and emails from the grand jury presentation. The motion was denied.

The prosecution's motion — that the retrial be limited to whether the offenses were committed with extreme indifference to human life — was also denied.

Soon after Marion County Circuit Court Judge Mary James's denial of the defense's motion for bail or Downing's release, a trial was scheduled for January.

Downing was an inmate at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility for more than three years. In March, she was taken to Marion County jail, where she remains incarcerated.

Email wmwoodwort@statesmanjournal.com, call 503-399-6884 or follow on Twitter @wmwoodworth


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