By The Associated Press
Thursday, December 7, 2006 10:05 AM EST
SYRACUSE - A 21-year-old man was convicted Wednesday of driving a motorcycle at more than 100 mph and leading a state trooper on a chase that ended with the trooper crashing into a tree and dying.
An Onondaga County Court jury deliberated 9.5 hours to find James Carncross guilty of aggravated criminally negligent homicide and reckless driving in the death of Trooper Craig Todeschini.
Carncross was acquitted of aggravated second-degree manslaughter.
Judge William Walsh scheduled sentencing for Jan. 10. Carncross faces a possible sentence of five to 20 years.
The criminally negligent homicide charged required jurors to determine that Carncross failed to perceive the risk of his conduct in causing the death of a law enforcement officer. To convict Carncross of aggravated manslaughter, the jury had to find that he consciously disregarded the risk of his conduct.
Carncross showed no emotion as the jury foreman announced the verdicts. Both families sat stoically as well, following the judge's request that they refrain from any emotional outbursts in front of the jury. After jurors were dismissed, the Carncross family stood quietly consoling one another. Todeschini's widow, his parents and other family members hugged in silent celebration.
“There are no winners in this case,” defense attorney Salvatore Piemonte said outside the courtroom. “The circumstances are tragic all the way around.”
Todeschini, 25, of Geddes, was killed April 23 when he crashed his patrol sport utility vehicle into a tree in the hamlet of Pompey Hill as he was rounding a curve in pursuit of a sport-style motorcycle about 15 miles south of Syracuse. Todeschini was one of three state troopers to die this year in the line of duty.
According to testimony in the six-day trial, both vehicles were traveling nearly 100 mph during the seven-mile chase over a hilly, winding two-lane country highway. It was estimated that Todeschini hit the tree at between 49 and 55 mph.
“Hopefully, we can have this behind us now. Someone was responsible here and the jury has spoken,” said James Todeschini, the victim's father.
District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said the verdict “reaffirms the memory of an outstanding young man.”
“The defendant is the one who started this course of conduct. He is the one who lead Trooper Todeschini into a death trap,” Fitzpatrick said.
The jury of eight men and four women rejected Piemonte's arguments that Todeschini was to blame for his own death because he was driving recklessly and failed to follow proper state police pursuit policy.
Piemonte argued that Todeschini should have broken off the chase, and could have at any time. Todeschini put the public at risk as well as himself by driving the SUV too fast for conditions with no reasonable chance of catching the faster, more maneuverable motorcycle, and for what amounted to a traffic infraction, Piemonte said.
“This is a tragedy, but it could have been avoided,” he said during closing arguments. “It was Trooper Todeschini's foot on the gas pedal. It was Trooper Todeschini's hands on the wheel.”
Piemonte said the family already has directed him to appeal the verdict.
“He is basically a decent kid. He made a great mistake, and made a grave decision, a split-second decision. The consequences were not what anyone expected, what no one wanted to happen,” Piemonte said.
During his closing remarks, Fitzpatrick said Todeschini would have been negligent if he had not pursued the speeding motorcycle. The prosecutor said the motorcyclist could have ended the chase at any time by simply pulling over. He said there was a direct relationship between Carncross' actions and Todeschini's death.
Fitzpatrick also reminded jurors that in a signed statement, Carncross acknowledged that he knew the trooper was after him: “My intention was to make it back to my house without getting caught by the trooper.”
Carncross is already serving a prison sentence of 1 1/3 to four years for violating probation in an earlier grand larceny case. In that case, Carncross admitted he was on a motorcycle April 23, but denied any involvement in Todeschini's death.
As a result of Todeschini's death, state lawmakers passed a law creating a new felony crime for refusing to obey police directions to stop and recklessly fleeing in a motor vehicle where such action results in the injury or death of another.