Madera man convicted in 3 DUI deaths may get new trial

FRESNO, Calif.

Justin Rice is facing a maximum of life in prison for killing three Chukchansi Casino workers while driving under the influence in Madera County. But Friday, a judge postponed his sentencing.

Justin Rice was scheduled to be sentenced on nine counts at the Madera County Courthouse, including three counts of second degree murder. Now, instead, his defense attorneys are taking steps that could lead to a new trial.

"There were some irregularities with the verdict, so now we're looking at hopefully a new trial motion," said Martin Jones, Defense Attorney.

Rice is still waiting to learn his fate for a deadly crash that happened in 2009. Authorities say he was under the influence of meth and speeding all over Highway 41 before slamming his truck into a car. The impact killed three women and injured two others on their way to work at Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino. A jury convicted Rice on nine counts in January, but now he may get a new trial.

The defense attorney says he has questions about some unusual circumstances surrounding the verdict. Jurors initially returned without deciding on the three second degree murder counts, so they were sent back to deliberate again. They returned hours later with guilty verdicts for those three charges.

Jones requested a transcript of the reading of the verdicts, and is filing a motion to have the jurors' contact information released. These are both steps toward possibly seeking a new trial. "To do the new trial motion, we need to prepare some evidence in support of that motion, and so part of that would be talking to jurors."

Prosecutors were not available for comment, but after the verdict was read, dIstrict Attorney Michael Keitz said jurors 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," said Keitz on January 2nd.

Justin Rice is scheduled to be back in court next month.

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