Man guilty in Chukchansi casino worker deaths

January 3, 2013 12:24:37 AM PST
The verdict is in for the man accused of killing three casino workers in a drunk driving crash. But a strange day in court has the defense attorney pledging the case is not over yet.

A Madera County jury has found a man guilty on nine different counts, including three counts of second degree murder, for a crash that killed three women back in 2009.

The crash killed three women and injured two others on their way to work at Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino in 2009. Authorities say Justin Rice was speeding and driving all over Highway 41 before he slammed his truck into their car head on. Prosecutors say Rice was also under the influence of meth.

Michael Keitz said, "It is a real tragedy, and it just goes to show you that drugs and alcohol and driving just don't mix."

Video cameras were not allowed in the courtroom during the trial, but the defense attorney argued Rice had actually fallen asleep at the wheel.

It was up to jurors to decide his fate on nine separate counts. They thought they had a verdict Wednesday morning, but it turned out they had not decided on the three most serious counts.

Keitz said, "So the judge sent them back to re-deliberate to see if they can reach verdicts on counts 1, 2, and 3, which is the second degree murder charges for the 3 different victims."

The jurors returned hours later with guilty verdicts on those three counts, much to the shock of Rice and his attorney. They assumed the jury only intended to find Rice guilty of the less serious charges.

"You just go back there and say not guilty of the murder and that's what everyone expects," Craig Collins said. "For it to go the other way, I've never seen anything, I've never heard anything like that. I don't anticipate anything like that in the future."

Collins says he may file a motion for a new trial. "After all that happened today it's going to be a long road ahead of us before it's all said and done whether it's here at the local level or at the appellate level."

But district attorney Michael Keitz says the jury made the right decision. "We're very pleased, we got a good verdict out of it, and the jurors, I talked with them and they really gave it their all, and they came back and it was difficult for them."

The husband of one of the victims was in court but did not want to speak on camera.

The trial still has a second phase where the judge will rule on whether Rice committed prior crimes. He's facing a maximum sentence of life in prison.