A state appeals court panel this week upheld the conviction of a former Lancaster resident who was on probation for alcohol-related reckless driving at the time of a DUI crash in Palmdale that killed a motorist who was stopped at a red light.
The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s contention that the jury, which heard the case against Jeffrey Cole Brooks, should not have seen two photographs of the 21-year-old victim, Daniel Eduardo Orellana, at the crash scene and during an autopsy in light of videos it was shown of the crash scene and the victim’s vehicle in flames.
In a 19-page ruling, the appellate court justices found that three photographs were “unpleasant but not unduly gruesome for a murder case of this kind.”
“Further, the evidence of defendant’s extreme intoxication, his acknowledgment he was drunk and should not have been driving, his prior conviction for alcohol-related reckless driving, his court-ordered education, his friend’s warning and attempt to prevent him from driving, and the severity of the fatal collision forcefully established his guilt. There is no chance the two photographs at issue inflamed the jury and swayed it to convict, the panel ruled.
The justices also turned down the defense’s claim that jurors should have heard about Brooks’ statement to a sheriff’s deputy about 25 minutes, after arriving at a hospital that he “didn’t remember what he was doing” and that he “intended to make a phone call,” to his mother, noting again that there was “no chance” of a more favorable verdict, if jurors had heard that evidence.
Brooks is serving a 15-year-to-life term in connection with the Sept. 24, 2016, crash, for which he was convicted of second-degree murder.
Orellana’s vehicle was stopped at a red light at Avenue S and Sierra Highway while he was on his way home from work.
The impact of the crash caused Orellana’s car to burst into flames and spin across the intersection, according to Deputy District Attorney Daniel Rochmes.
Brooks—who had taken a “party bus” to Los Angeles—had been warned by a friend that he was too drunk to drive, but got into the driver’s seat of his 2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and left the park and ride lot on Avenue S in Palmdale, Rochmes said after the verdict.
Authorities determined that Orellana was driving no less than 88.9 miles per hour with a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.27 percent.
Brooks was on probation in San Diego County for alcohol-related reckless driving at the time of the crash and had attended court-ordered DUI education classes that warned about the dangers of driving under the influence, Rochmes said.