An Austin, Texas, jury continues deliberations today. Before, we had presented reasons things don't look good for the DUI death trial defense of driver Gabrielle Jane Nestande. So, it's only fair we present her side's counterpoints. Nestande grew up in Newport Beach as the daughter of GOP insider and former Orange County politician Bruce Nestande, and she's the half-sister of state Assemblyman Brian Nestande. She was working as a legislative aide in the Texas capitol on May 27, 2011, when she plowed her BMW into a nanny out for a walk.
Gabby has been charged with felony intoxication manslaughter and
felony manslaughter, each of which carry a maximum sentence of
20 years in a Texas prison, and felony failure to stop and render aid, which is punishable by up to 10 years behind bars.
Here are 10 reasons jurors might opt to acquit Nestande:
– Testifying in her own defense Tuesday at the Travis County Justice Complex, Nestande said she spent the first part of the night of May 26, 2011, drinking water–but no alcohol–during happy hour at a bar called the Cloak Room.
– The 25-year-old downed a shot, one full beer, half of four more beers and a couple of sips of a vodka drink later that same night at the Clive Bar. "Looking back, should you have driven after that?" one of her defense attorneys asked. "I felt fine," Nestande answered.
– After about two hours at the Clive Bar, her boyfriend first drove her to his West Austin apartment, and then she alone headed home south in her BMW on Exposition Boulevard through Tarrytown during the overnight hours of May 27, 2011. Realizing after three or four blocks she needed to check to make sure she'd set her phone alarm to go off for work later the same morning, she placed the cell in a cup holder just as her windshield shattered. "It was just an instant," she told jurors. "It was so quick." (REPORTER'S NOTE: This paragraph was corrected to reflect boyfriend driving her to his apartment.)
– She pulled over and checked her side and rearview mirrors. "I remember just looking down. I was so scared, my heart was beating
out of my chest. My windshield was shattered. There was glass on the
passenger side. I looked in my rearview in the street to see if anything
was moving, and it wasn't." Fearing someone may have thrown a rock at her car, she drove back to her boyfriend's apartment.
– She did not know she had hit a person–30-year-old nanny and veterinarian aide Courtney Griffin, whose body was found in a residential neighborhood driveway along Exposition–until her boss, Texas state Representative Wayne Christian told her at work in his office later that same morning. Asked by one of her defense attorneys, "Who's fault is it that
we are here?" Nestande mumbled. He repeated the question and she answered audibly, "It's mine."
After a long pause, she sobbed into her hands.
– Looking back at that night, Nestande testified, exhaustion contributed to her driving. Asked by the prosecution if her Clive Bar shot had anything to do with it, she first said she and her friends were just
"having fun," but, yes, she did feel "a little bit buzzed." She also observed, "I never thought I would end up in something like this."
– In their closing arguments, defense attorneys noted prosecutors did not bring forth manslaughter charges until they interviewed witnesses a year after the accident. Witnesses said Nestande appeared drunk at the Clive Bar, but they did not spend enough time with her to make such a call, and their stories could have changed over time. If, as three witnesses testified, Nestande had been falling down drunk, how did she make it to work less than 12 hours
later? Why did an Austin police investigator fail to note signs of her being hungover
when he questioned her that same morning in Christian's office? Why was her blood not taken?
– Defense attorney Perry Minton said the state therefore did not present enough
evidence to show Nestande had been drunk or consciously
negligent while driving. "If we don't know, and we can't
get beyond a reasonable doubt," he told jurors, "then we don't need to convict that young
girl of anything."
– Noting a defense accident-reconstruction expert testified Griffin wore dark
clothing while out on her walk, Nestande's attorney Sam Bassett said, "Many drivers–sober, normal drivers–would have a difficult time
seeing pedestrians under normal circumstances; that's more than a
reasonable doubt. That is not guilty." Nestande's decision not to stop made sense for a young woman alone on a dark night, he said.
– Minton cautioned jurors against weaving anti-DUI sentiments into their decision. "It is easy to be angry at her," he conceded. "You read about these all the time.
There were two of these same kinds of accidents this week. You get it in
your mind we have to stop this. This is not your job. If it ain't there,
it ain't there." Outside the courtroom, the defense team has said that a conviction could set a dangerous precedent because people could be locked up for DUI without hard evidence such as blood-alcohol content.
Just so you know everything jurors took into deliberations this morning (besides the points raised here), prosecutors in their closing arguments and rebuttal described Nestande and her friends as privileged people from a "culture of
entitlement," people who "like to work hard and play hard, and Courtney paid the price for that." Her friends were evasive or measured with their answers to authorities to protect one another. Gabby, a 2006 Newport Beach deb, in particular was portrayed as selfish, self-centered and more worried about her predicament than having taken a life. She knew she'd hit someone right away, and then "went to her boyfriend's house to
hide her car, to get in his bed and pull the covers over her head, and go
right to sleep." Griffin, meanwhile, died alone, without loved ones there to hold her hand. Nestande did not call police because she did not want to go to jail. From jail, she called her sister in Newport Beach and said she was not drunk and knew "exactly what happened." Assistant District Attorney Mary Farrington, noting Nestande first told
her boyfriend someone threw something at her car and later told friends
she hit a deer, keyed in on that quote: "She
knew exactly what happened, and that is why her story kept changing."
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before "graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.