Jury: It Wasn't Murder

Loud sobs and looks of disbelief filled the hallway outside an El Cajon courtroom Friday after jurors returned a split verdict in the case of a drunk driver who killed two men in a crash on state Route 78 in Ramona last summer.

Shimp was driving drunk on the night of July 22, 2008, when his pickup truck broadsided a Lexus carrying 19-year-old Ian Kinney and Tessa Medearis. Shimp's passenger, Joseph Edwards, 52, died in the accident, along with Kinney. Medearis suffered serious injuries.

Jurors convicted Shimp of gross vehicular manslaughter with a special allegation of multiple victims and causing great bodily injuries and two counts of DUI with injuries. The jury found him not guilty of murder. 

After court, Kinney's family members expressed sadness, anger and disappointment that the man they consider to be a very dangerous person was not convicted of the most serious charge levied against him.

"I find it unconscionable that persons like Mr. Shimp are allowed to not be convicted of murder when in my mind there's absolutely no doubt that this is the case. However, I respect the decision of the jury," said Kinney's father. "It just boggles my mind that this man has not stood up and accepted responsibility for this act -- this terrible, tragic act."

According to investigators, Shimp was driving erratically, weaving in and out of traffic, when he lost control and broadsided Kinney and Medearis.

"Not only should Shimp have not been drinking that day, he shouldn't have been on the road, he shouldn't have been in the truck that he shouldn't have been driving that day for so many different reasons," said Kinney's sister-in-law.

The defense had argued that this is not a murder case. Shimp's attorney told jurors that the back tires on the truck had low tire pressure, which may have played a role in the crash.

"I understand what the family thinks, and I understand there are a lot of components that go into when you have a vehicular accident," said defense attorney Kerry Steigerwalt, "The minute you inject alcohol or drugs, the minute you escalate it by terrible driving, it rises to the level where someone could see this as murder, malicious. This jury didn't."

The legal definition of malice, according to Steigerwalt, is conscious disregard for human life.

The Kinney family has turned its hope to sentencing and plans to submit victim impact statements to the judge asking for the maximum penalty allowed. They also plan on taking part in the Walk Like MADD event at Liberty Station on Sept. 19 to spread the word about the dangers of driving under the influence.

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