***Editor’s note: Herchel Huff is presumed innocent until he has been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.***
LEXINGTON – Herchel Huff, the 36-year-old Furnas County resident, appeared in court Tuesday morning with his team of defense attorneys to face a jury of his peers.
Twelve carefully selected men and women, whose job it is to determine if Huff was intoxicated when he allegedly struck and killed 28-year-old teacher Kasey Warner as she was jogging with her 3-year-old daughter on a country road, near Arapahoe on Oct. 3, 2007.
Warner pushed her daughter out of the way at the last second.
The tot survived, but Warner did not.
Motor vehicle homicide is a class II felony with a penalty of up to 50 years in prison. Huff has also been charged with tampering with a witness and refusal to submit to a chemical test.
Tampering with a witness is a class IV felony with a penalty of up to five years in prison, a $10,000 fine or both. Refusing to submit to a chemical test is a class IIIA felony with a penalty of up to five years in prison, a $10,000 fine or both.
Huff has pleaded not guilty to all three charges.
Assistant Attorney General Mike Guinan and Furnas County Attorney Tom Patterson are handling the case on behalf of the State of Nebraska while Richard Calkins and Charles Brewster are on the defense team.
Tuesday was spent in jury selection and opening statements of both the prosecution and the defense.
In the state’s opening argument, prosecutors allege that Huff had been in a bar in Oxford drinking and playing pool the afternoon of Oct. 3, 2007.
At 6:30 p.m., the State also alleges that Huff got into his car, a bluish-green Camaro and drove while intoxicated, taking country roads from Oxford back to where he was living in Holbrook.
The State contends that at about 7 or 7:15 p.m., Huff struck Warner while she was jogging along one of those country roads. The State alleges that Huff had been traveling somewhere between 72 and 84 miles per hour before he finally slammed on the brakes, striking Warner and rolling his car over on her, dragging her body along the ground.
According to the prosecution, when law enforcement sent Huff to Cambridge Hospital for a blood-alcohol test, he refused.
After the State gave their version of the events of Oct. 3, the defense painted their own picture of the events of that day.
“The State has given you their version of the fact,” Calkins began. “That what it is – -their version.”
“We agree they were in an accident and that it was a tragedy,” Calkins continued. “The issue is whether Mr. Huff was under the influence.”
Calkins told the jury that no field sobriety tests had been performed at the scene, no interviews. In fact, Calkins said, Huff was taken over to accident responders to be checked out for injuries and wasn’t questioned at all.
The defense attorney advised the jury that an officer arrived on the scene to take Huff to the hospital for alcohol testing, but did not explain who he was or why he was being tested. In fact, Calkins stated, the officer did not even know who the driver of the vehicle involved was.
“Mr. Huff was distraught, crying and throwing up,” Calkins said. “Ryan Markwardt was in the same state. He was in the ditch in a fetal position.”
Markwardt was called to the witness stand as the State’s first witness.
In his testimony, Markwardt said that Huff had been drinking “as much, if not more” than he was that afternoon.
Markwardt voluntarily took the blood-alcohol test after the accident. It was .13, nearly twice the legal limit.
Allegedly Huff had told Markwardt and a co-worker who had been at the bar that afternoon that “We we’re drinking slow and he was up on us.”
At press time, jury was on recess and the defense had not yet cross-examined Markwardt.
Huff’s trial is expected to last until Friday.