By Erin Place
PARIS—On Tuesday, Active Retired Justice Robert Clifford denied all three motions filed by defense attorneys for Kristina Lowe—the Oxford woman convicted of manslaughter for the deaths of two West Paris teens in a high-speed crash in 2012—that would have overturned the jury’s ruling.
Clifford heard the motions argued by defense attorneys James Howaniec and Chelsea Peters on July 31, which asked for a mistrial, acquittal of the two manslaughter charges and one charge of leaving the scene of an accident, and further asked for a new trial. Their arguments were countered by Assistant District Attorneys Joseph O’Connor and Richard Beauchesne.
In May, a jury decided the now 21-year-old Lowe was responsible for the deaths of two of her passengers, 16-year-old Rebecca Mason and 19-year-old Logan Dam, as a result of the accident on Jan. 7, 2012. The jury found Lowe not guilty of two counts of aggravated operating under the influence and two counts of operating under the influence.
In his five-page ruling, Clifford disagreed with the defense’s argument of what it called inconsistent verdicts, which said she should have been acquitted on the manslaughter charges because she was acquitted on all of the OUI charges. He also disagreed with the argument that Lowe should have faced non-criminal motor vehicle violations as a result of the accident.
“The evidence was sufficient for the jury to have rationally found that the defendant was guilty of vehicular manslaughter. There was evidence of excessive speed, of inattention (looking down at her phone at the receipt of a text message), and the presence of alcohol and marijuana in the defendant’s blood,” Clifford wrote. “The verdicts in this case are not inconsistent.”
The other major argument made by Howaniec and Peters was that the inconsistent testimony of Lowe’s father, Earl Lowe—which was heard after the state rested its case and based on testimony suppressed during the trial—makes the case for a mistrial or a new trial for Kristina Lowe. Clifford agreed with the defense that Earl Lowe’s version of events differed from the testimony of Maine State Trooper Lauren Edstrom at the trial and later, the testimony of Melissa Stanley, Kristina Lowe’s mother and Earl’s ex-wife during the July 31 proceedings. Earl Lowe testified that he heard his daughter say she looked down at an incoming text message and Dam, who was riding in the back seat, grabbed the steering wheel and lost control of the car.
While Clifford agreed with the inconsistencies, he did not agree that Earl Lowe’s testimony warranted a mistrial or new trial. He wrote that Kristina Lowe was “not without means to overcome that testimony.” Clifford said the defense could have interviewed Earl Lowe prior to the trial about his testimony and conducted a more extensive cross-examination of him during the trial. The active retired justice said there was another option for the defense.
“In addition, the defendant could have called Melissa Stanley to testify to rebut the testimony of Earl Lowe, especially as to the fact that he was not present in the hospital room of the defendant prior to or during the interview by Trooper Edstrom, and his lack of access to the defendant,” Clifford wrote, adding there could have been time requested to speak with Stanley or contact Edstrom to rebut Earl Lowe’s testimony.
Howaniec said late Tuesday afternoon that they’re frustrated and disappointed with Clifford’s rulings and that they did not receive a fair trial in Oxford County, citing the media attention from the proceedings and the strong roots the victims’ families have in the community.
“I just spoke with my client she’s very devastated and we feel pretty strongly that this case has been a miscarriage of justice,” Howaniec said, adding he’s lost cases and normally is able to accept the decision of the jury or judge. “We feel strongly in this case there’s been a lot of outside pressures that have influenced this case and it’s resulted in very serious convictions for a young woman who we feel doesn’t deserve it.”
He said if his client was 50 years old, he believed she wouldn’t have been tried, and that since day one, the defense hasn’t been able to shake the perception that Kristina Lowe is “some young punk kid who was engaging in criminal conduct.”
“We just feel she’s being scapegoated. We feel this is a case of civil negligence,” Howaniec said. “Clearly there was negligence. We feel it was an accident and not a serious felony crime.”
The defense attorney said he expects to receive notice of a sentencing hearing within the next two to four weeks and will contemplate appealing Kristina Lowe’s sentencing to the Maine Supreme Court. Lowe remains free on $50,000 unsecured bail.
ADAs O’Connor and Beauchesne could not be reached for comment by deadline.