If it seemed like a stretch to charge Austin Jeffrey Farley with murder in the DUI collision death of 14-year-old Ashton Sweet of Irvine, it's a stretch that ultimately paid off for prosecutors. Pending an appeal, of course. Farley, 28, of Irvine, was convicted Monday of second-degree murder, driving under the influence causing injury and driving with a blood-alcohol level in excess of the legal limit of .08 percent causing injury, along with a sentencing enhancement of inflicting great bodily harm.
Sweet, a Northwood High School freshman cheerleader, and three other girls were being driven home from a birthday party by Mohammad "Mike" Ghaemi, one passenger's father, around 1 a.m. on May 29, 2011, when their E-Class Mercedes was struck on the left side by a pickup truck in the Culver Drive and Irvine Boulevard intersection. The Mercedes was sent into a light pole and Sweet, who was wearing no seat belt, was slammed into the windshield.
Farley, who was later identified as the truck driver, and his then-girlfriend passenger Jessica Rodriguez, the daughter of Orange County Superior Court Judge Luis Rodriguez, made no attempt to help the people in the Mercedes, according to prosecutors.
Calvin Schneider, Farley's attorney, contended during the trial that his client did not cause the crash, arguing that Farley was punched by Rodriguez moments before, City News Service's Paul Anderson reports. Schneider also noted that Farley, a 2003 graduate of Northwood High School himself, was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, as well as being bipolar, anxious, depressed and suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder.
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But jurors were obviously less swayed by the medical report than they were by Farley having been convicted of drunken driving in 2004 and 2009. Then, after initially denying he'd been drinking and refusing a blood test that fateful Memorial Day weekend early morning, his blood-alcohol level hit 0.20 percent more than 90 minutes after the crash, according to Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino. Farley also had in his system Clonazepam, an anti-anxiety drug that intensifies the effects of alcohol.
"After prior warnings and advisements, we get this--Ashton Sweet, dead at 14,'' Pino told jurors in Westminster.
Farley is to be sentenced Nov. 15 in Los Angeles because all of Orange County's judges recused themselves.