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Penrod convicted of manslaughter

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Jury took only 10 minutes to recommend 10 years in jail

By Larry Rowell

While the jury deliberated for four hours to render a guilty verdict in the 2015 death of Robbie Howell, it took less than 10 minutes for them to recommend defendant Lesli Carol Penrod’s punishment, 10 years in the penitentiary. The jury found Penrod guilty of second-degree manslaughter.

Penrod was on trial in Casey Circuit Court, accused of murder when she hit Howell with her truck Aug. 20, 2015, killing him.

At issue in the trial was Penrod having visited a doctor’s office in Liberty to get a pain shot and her taking pain medication before heading home to Russell Springs on U.S. 127 when she crossed the centerline, causing the collision with Howell.

Defense

Taken from trial video, defense attorney Cameron Griffith, in his closing statement before the jury, recounted key testimony from a witness who was at the scene, as well as others involved in the trial, which began Jan. 30 and finished just after midnight Feb. 2.

David Smith, from Cincinnati, Ohio, told the jury the defendant did not seem impaired.

“He spent 45 minutes at the scene and was best situated to observe the defendant,” Griffith said.

While admitting he was no expert in judging whether Penrod was driving impaired, Smith shared he had struggled with alcoholism since he was 14.

“Based on that experience, she didn’t seem under the influence,” Griffith said of Smith’s testimony.

Griffith discounted Deputy Chad G. Weddle’s testimony of an interview he conducted with Penrod, intimating he used interview “tactics” of being polite and friendly in an effort to get Penrod to admit she shouldn’t have been driving that day.

Another witness, Dr. Jared Wilson, who has been Penrod’s doctor in Liberty for about 17 years, testified he had no problem prescribing her narcotics and pain medication based on her extensive medical problems — Hepatitis C, diabetes, heart trouble, chronic back and neck pain as well as having had seizures and epilepsy.

“In his judgment, she had very serious medical conditions. She doesn’t take these medications to get high. She doesn’t take these medications to party,” Griffith said.

In addition to espousing the possibility Penrod may have passed out or possibly had a seizure just prior to the collision, Griffith, who practices alongside Theodore Lavit, theorized the truck, a 1989 Dodge Ram Penrod purchased for $300, was in poor mechanical condition.

Griffith pointed out it was prosecutors who had the truck inspected after the accident.

“Evidence collected five days after the accident on Aug. 25, evidence that supports what she says. Evidence that there were problems with the steering on the left side of the vehicle,” Griffith told jurors, referring to a broken tie rod on the truck.

Griffith insinuated that LaJuana Wilson, who was with Penrod the day of the accident, had been coached by the commonwealth as to her answers on the witness stand.

“She answered the commonwealth’s questions almost before they finished asking them. She came in here knowing what she was going to say,” Griffith said.

But the most telling testimony, Griffith said, came from Sarah Warren, a nurse at the clinic where Penrod got the pain shot that day.

“She testified the shot itself doesn’t necessarily cause drowsiness. Could have caused drowsiness, tie rod could have broken, could have had a seizure and passed out before the accident, no one more likely than the other,” he said.

In closing, Griffith declared the collision to be an accident.

“She admitted it was an accident. You heard her say she was remorseful Nov. 29, 2015, with Deputy Weddle at the jail. She’s remorseful today.”

Prosecution

In his closing, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Jeff Eastham likened the defense’s tactics as someone using a “bootscraper” to scrape dirt from the bottom of a shoe, to scrape dirt onto someone else instead of Penrod.

Eastham then refuted the major points the defense sought to score with the jury.

“There was no evidence from Mr. Clark (the mechanic) there was a problem with the steering on the left side,” he said.

As to her condition on the day of the collision, Eastham said that even without a drug test, there was evidence she was impaired.

“This is an imperfect world. We’re left to guess because we don’t have a (blood) test,” Eastham indicated the defense insinuated.

“I don’t believe for a minute you don’t have substantial hardcore evidence about her condition on Aug. 20,” he said.

Further, Eastham pointed out Smith’s testimony of Penrod weaving in and out of traffic as he followed her for five or six miles.

Phyllis Spurlin, a pharmacist where Penrod filled a prescription after receiving her pain shot, testified Penrod was unsteady on her feet.

“’I’ve seen people in pain, but she had an altered state,’” Eastham said Spurlin testified.

Eastham turned to Dr. Wilson’s testimony in which he used the same “altered state” term in reference to some of the narcotics Penrod used.

And concerning a conversation Wilson had with Penrod about the side effects of drowsiness, dizziness, and an altered state after taking the shot and combining it with the medications prescribed she took that day, he told his patient “she should not drive.”

“The combination of medications could cause respiratory failure or death,” Wilson testified.

The commonwealth presented evidence that Penrod had taken Neurontin, Xanax, and Percocet after receiving the shot and getting onto U.S. 127 in her truck and driving home.

In closing, Eastham said Penrod made two things with this collision — “her bed, and a coffin Robby Howell was buried in.”

Final sentencing for Penrod, who is lodged in the Casey County jail, is set for March 27.