Appeals Court hears arguments in deadly DUI crash

Published 5:38 pm Wednesday, July 30, 2008

By all accounts the 2004 crash that killed three Mississippi College students was a chaotic and confusing scene, but an appeals court must sort through what happened and decide if the conviction and 60-year sentence of Krystal Marie Teston should stand.

Teston, now 25, claims she was not on drugs at the time of the accident. She said she was so distraught because of the crash on Interstate 10 in Biloxi that she took the pain medication Lorcet, or hydrocodone, after the accident to calm her nerves. That’s why, she said, the medication was in her blood system when checked by authorities.

Prosecutors say that’s a convenient story. They say Teston was already high on the drugs and that’s what caused the accident that took the lives of the three college students and injured two others.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Teston’s attorney and a lawyer from the Mississippi attorney general’s office gave oral arguments Tuesday before the state Court of Appeals. The judges did not immediately rule.

Teston, who is from Slidell, La., but lived Jacksonville, Fla., at the time, was convicted of four counts of felony DUI in 2007 in Harrison County. Sentenced to 60 years in prison with 30 years suspended, she is incarcerated at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County.

Gulfport attorney Tim Holleman argued Tuesday that blunders by authorities and inaccurate testimony led to the conviction. Holleman said testimony by the state’s expert that Teston took the drug before the accident was not based on viable scientific data.

“The state’s expert was changing his positions — it was ever-changing,” said Holleman.

John Henry, a lawyer for the attorney general’s office, however, said Teston mislead police who arrived on the scene by telling them she saw the accident rather than volunteering that she was directly involved.

If not for that deception, officers would have given her a blood test sooner and the courts would have had a better indication of the drugs she ingested and when, Henry said.

“What this case really comes down to is whether she was impaired at the time of this accident,” Henry said.

Holleman also accused the prosecutor in the case of making a prejudicial statement about Teston’s reluctance to testify during closing arguments.

“He turned and pointed and basically said, ’this defendant has not testified. She can’t come here with a straight face and lie,”’ Holleman told the appeals court. “That one statement by itself … directly implicates that it was improper for the defendant not to testify.”

Defendants are not required to testify at criminal trials. The appeal judges asked about the context in which the statement was made.

Holleman said the only thing a juror could take from the prosecutor’s comment was that “the reason she didn’t take the stand is because she can’t lie and keep a straight face. I don’t know how that could be interpreted otherwise.”

The accident occurred Sept. 10, 2004.

Killed were: Lindsay Miller; her boyfriend Maksim Sisoev, a foreign exchange student from Uzbekistan; and Elizabeth Finch, a native of Clinton, where the college is based. Two others in the car were injured in the accident and recovered.