Jurors on Friday acquitted a drunk driver of committing two murders in a Ramona crash, but they convicted him of two counts of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
The El Cajon Superior Court jury deliberated about nine hours over three days before finding that Shannon Kelly Shimp, 36, did not commit two murders in the deaths of Ian Kinney, 19, of Julian, and Joseph Edwards, 52, of Ramona, in the July 22, 2008, crash.
The jury instead found Shimp guilty of two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and two counts of drunk driving with serious injury.
Shimp was driving a white flatbed truck east on state Route 78 near Ramona around 6 p.m. when he tried to pass a car and lost control of his vehicle.
Shimp’s truck hit a Lexus that was driven by Kinney. Edwards was a passenger in Shimp’s truck. Kinney’s girlfriend, Tessa Medearis, 19, was seriously injured. Shimp’s truck flipped and landed on top of the Lexus.
The courtroom was filled with people for the verdict, and many family members of the victims expressed disappointment. Some wept.
“It has been a very difficult year,” said Scott Kinney. “It’s absolutely devastating. It feels like a piece of our heart has been ripped away with the death of our son Ian.”
Shimp was represented by attorney Kerry Steigerwalt, who said he talked with jurors afterward and they told him Shimp’s conduct “didn’t rise to the level of murder.”
Steigerwalt said a finding of malice is an element required to convict someone of second-degree murder, and jurors told him they just couldn’t find it.
“They agreed it was a horrible tragedy, but they kept comparing the facts to the law,” said Steigerwalt. “At no time did he harbor that malice.”
Deputy District Attorney Monte Bennett had argued that Shimp showed a “conscious disregard for life” by the way he drove. Shimp’s blood/alcohol level was .19, which is twice the legal limit.
Judge Herbert Exarhos set sentencing for Jan. 8, 2010. Shimp remains at the George Bailey Detention Facility on $400,000 bail.
“He’s facing between 10 to 15 years. He’ll probably get 13 years in prison,” said Steigerwalt.
Steigerwalt had urged jurors to acquit Shimp of murder, but argued instead to convict him of vehicular manslaughter. Juries in the county in other cases have acquitted drivers of murder and instead convicted them of vehicular manslaughter.
In 1981, a San Diego County jury acquitted a driver of four counts of murder and instead convicted him of four counts of vehicular manslaughter in a case that involved a police chase. In 1987, a 19-year-old driver was acquitted of three counts of murder and convicted of three counts of vehicular manslaughter in a case that also involved a police chase.
The trial began on Sept. 9. Shimp, who lived in El Cajon, did not testify. He was also injured in the collision, and he has been in custody since the incident.