WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Kerry Kennedy’s fate is in the jury’s hands in her misdemeanor drugged-driving case in White Plains.
As WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reported, this is a one question case for the jury: when did Kerry Kennedy, 54, become aware that she had taken the wrong medication?
Few facts are in dispute in the drugged driving case, CBS 2’s Lou Young reported.
The defense rested its case Thursday after calling a final witness to stand and introducing a medical journal article that appears to bolster Kennedy’s testimony.
The August 2013 New England Journal of Medicine article said data showed that people taking the sleeping pill zolpidem “frequently do not recognize their impaired state.”
Defense attorney Gerald Lefcourt told the jury in his closing arguments that Kennedy’s erratic driving and subsequent accident were unintentional.
“If she realized…she was under the drug’s influence she would’ve never done that,” Lefcourt said. “She would not have continued driving.”
“Accidents are not crimes,” he added.
But the prosecution argued in its closing remarks that Kennedy became aware of the symptoms and knew of the pill mix-up, but that she had a schedule to keep, 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported.
“When someone ingests this pill, they do feel it,” assistant district attorney Doreen Lloyd said. “She had to have been drowsy.”
She also urged jurors not to be blinded by the Kennedy mystique, Young reported.
“I’m comfortable you will speak truth to power and convict Kerry Kennedy,” Lloyd added. That line referenced Kennedy’s book title.
Following the closing statements, the judge gave the jury instructions and deliberations began before 4 p.m. on Thursday. The jurors were dismissed around 4:30 p.m. without reaching a verdict and will resume deliberations on Friday.
Kennedy testified Wednesday she didn’t remember anything about a wild drive she took on Interstate 684 in July of 2012, hitting a tractor-trailer and blowing a tire, after accidentally taking a sleeping pill.
She also said she never sensed that the drug was having an effect.
“If I realized I was impaired I would have pulled over,” Kennedy testified.
The article’s conclusion was read from the witness stand Thursday by Dr. David Benjamin, a clinical pharmacologist.
“Part of what zolpidem does is to turn down the activity of the cortex, the big part of the brain,” he told the jury. “That part of the brain is responsible for executive function, making good decisions. When you are taking zolpidem, your ability to make good decisions is repressed. You are oblivious to a lot of things that occur. Your higher receptors are not functioning.”
Kennedy said she mistakenly took the sleeping pill, sold under the brand name Ambien, because the bottle looked identical to the one containing her thyroid medication.
Kennedy told Lefcourt that she takes the thyroid pill every day and the sleeping pill only when traveling. She said they were together on the kitchen counter in preparation for an upcoming trip.
But the prosecution has argued that even if she took the sleeping pill accidentally, Kennedy violated the law by failing to pull over as she felt it taking effect.
On cross-examination, a skeptical prosecutor asked Kennedy if the pill really “overtook you without warning.”
“Yes,” Kennedy said.
Lloyd said Kennedy “didn’t take the time or the care” to check the label on the medication and asked if she would agree that was careless.
“I would,” Kennedy said. “I really wish I had. We wouldn’t be here today.”
Still, Kennedy does not believe she committed a crime. She told the jury the sleeping drug ambushed her and gave her no chance to react.
She said she remembers getting in the car and driving the local road toward the interstate, but her memory fades out just as she was merging onto the highway.
She said the next thing she recalls is a man tapping on her window as she sat slumped over the steering wheel after taking an exit ramp.
“He said, ‘Have you been in an accident?”’ Kennedy said. “And I said, ‘No,’ because as far as I was concerned I hadn’t been in an accident.”
She said she became confused and frightened when she saw that the side of her Lexus was badly scraped and one tire was gone. She failed several field sobriety tests at the scene and was arrested.
Kennedy testified at length about her accomplishments in human rights work and the books she’s written on human rights and religion.
At one point Justice Robert Neary told Lefcourt, “I’m not sure this is the right forum to go into exhaustive detail.”
Kennedy is the ex-wife of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and the niece of the late President John F. Kennedy.
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