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UPDATED: Valencia convicted of second-degree murder

Jury in DUI-murder case took less than 80 minutes to find Canyon Country man

Posted: April 27, 2011 8:49 p.m.
Updated: April 27, 2011 8:49 p.m.
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San Fernando — A Canyon Country man was found guilty of second-degree murder Wednesday for a 2009 crash in which he plowed into a group of bicyclists while driving drunk.

The jury, composed of nine women and three men, found Marco Antonio Valencia, 22, guilty of all five counts he was facing after deliberating for about 80 minutes in San Fernando Superior Court.

Valencia faces from 15 years to life in prison for killing Stevenson Ranch resident Joe Novotny during the 2009 crash.

In addition to the murder charge, Valencia was also found guilty of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, DUI causing great bodily injury, driving with a blood-alcohol level above 0.08 percent causing injury and leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death or serious injury.

Valencia is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Daniel B. Feldstern on May 26. Deputy District Attorney Wiliam Chung said in an interview that he would recommend a 23-year to life sentence.

On the morning of July 11, 2009, Valencia was driving northbound on Bouquet Canyon Road when he drove his truck head-on into a group of about nine bicyclists who were riding on the southbound shoulder. Novotny was killed and three other cyclists were injured.

Valencia’s blood-alcohol level was approximately 0.23 at the time of the crash.

Novotny’s fellow cyclists were called to the stand during the trial, which began April 13, and provided heart-wrenching testimony about what they experienced that morning.

Chung told jurors throughout the trial that Valencia was aware of the dangers of driving drunk. Valencia’s second DUI conviction came exactly five months before the fatal crash.

Valencia’s defense attorney Robert Wilder argued using testimony from a neuropsychologist that his client could not be convicted of murder because Valencia was clinically unconscious at the time of the crash and therefore couldn’t have had the malicious intent to kill Novotny.

Wilder’s tactic is commonly used by defense attorneys in DUI cases, said Dave Radford, the director of the Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor program. The program teaches prosecutors how to better argue DUI cases in court.

Sleeping behind the wheel is a defense theory and not a legal defense formerly outlined in California law, Radford said.
Depending on the case, judges won’t allow attorneys to argue that their client was asleep at the wheel in court, he said.

“It’s confusing to jurors,” Radford said, adding that he’s never heard of such a defense working in court.

Judge Feldstern said during the trial he was conflicted on whether to allow Wilder to present a sleep defense in court.    

“The fulcrum here is whether the law is clear or unclear,” Feldstern said. “I could go either way but my instinct tells me to let this defense go forward.”    In the end, the jurors were not swayed by the expert testimony.

“This wasn’t an accident at all,” Chung said during closing statements. “It was just a matter of time before this happened. We know that when we get behind the wheel intoxicated, someone is going to die.”

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