Tough Times Call For Tough Representation

Photo of Gary S. Bernstein

There was no excitement or smiles after the jury acquitted my client at 7:30 Friday night of the dozen charges brought against him for a July 2020 accident where a wonderful son and friend lost his life. First, about the victim, Alessandro Lori. He was the kind of kid you’d hope your daughter would bring home. He grew up in Harford County and came from Baltimore that weekend to hang out with his “friends.”  A little after midnight a thug who I was told is now in jail started a fight with his “friends” over who was going to leave with a girl.  The thug was beating the hell out of the 2 friends when Alex stepped in to break the fight upNo one is sure whether he was rolled out into the street or pushed out into the street, but he ended up rolling under my client’s truck as it passed.  The prosecutor told the jury there was no way to avoid running him over.  Once under the truck he was dragged until becoming dislodged 146 feet later.  The 2 “friends” involved in the fight did not appear in court.  They are both out of town.  One didn’t even stay at the scene and went home only to come in for an interview a week later.  Alex’s true friend, Shalah, went to where he was dislodged and did everything she could to comfort him and keep him from choking on his blood.  He died a short time later.  She appeared in court and testified, still devastated 2 years later.

The Jury.  43 of the 64 people answered that they could not be fair because of the nature of the charges.  23 thought it was illegal to drink and drive.  I had all 75 in a Child Abuse case answer similarly about the charges ( I wrote about that case a few years ago), and we were able to get 12 and that case ended in an acquittal.  The trial judge did a sensational job of explaining to each juror what their responsibility was and if they could set those feelings aside. In the end we had just enough jurors.  Now I have picked a number of DUI juries in Harford County.  These citizens are the most honest people you could meet.  Not one of them tried to conceal their animus in a case like this and GET ON THE JURY.  They were not looking to avoid service.  They were just 100% honest.

The trial.  My client was on video at the place he drank that night and it showed he was absolutely not impaired by any of the alcohol.  The State did not ask the State Toxicologist to review the video and determine his BAC.  I told the Jury I was going to do it, but it wasn’t my burden to prove his BAC.  All of the video showed he had NO failure of any coordination and the street cameras showed he stopped for a traffic light.  He even slowed to stop for the light after the accident.  I told the jury to start with the DUI charges and they did and I think they acquitted him on those very quickly.

The issue was whether he knew he struck Alex and therefore had a duty to stop.  My client did everything consistent with not realizing he struck someone.  He saw the fight as he drove by and thought someone threw a bottle at his truck as he heard a noise on the hood (he bought the truck 5 days before),  The passenger thought something struck the side mirror.  He was not going to confront a hostile crowd.  The police testified that the truck had a loud after market muffler and the radio was cranked all the way up when they got in it because it couldn’t be heard otherwise.  My client and the passenger checked the body of the truck probably around 3AM with their phone flashlights and saw no dings.  Mt client parked the truck in a public area. Later that morning he drove home and parked in his driveway which is off one of the busiest roads in all of Harford County.  He could have parked the truck around the back of the house and it would have been hidden.  He could have driven to his parents’ home in Pennsylvania where he spends a couple days a week.  He did neither.  The truck was easily seen by the police. My client testified and generated a Mistake of Fact defense and jury instruction.  The State could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was aware of the personal injury accident and knew he had a duty to stop and render aid and provide identification.  Because the State charged every Leaving the Scene charge possible based on  the many obligations set forth in the statute, it took the jury 3 hours (including a dinner break) to come back with the acquittals. In the end it was the right and only fair verdict.  I was stoic through the rendering of the verdict and after.  My client and his parents remained the same way even as we walked to their car.  The whole thing was just sad.

The thug.  Public fighting is a crime, it is called Affray.  It is a Common Law crime with no maximum punishment.  One of the few unmodified crimes, I was on the Commission to codify these type offenses before the Legislature got pissed at the Judiciary and ended the Commission (one had nothing to do with the other, but this is what you can get in Annapolis).  All the witnesses statements were in agreement that the thug started the fight.  Even if you couldn’t prove he threw Alex out into the street, you had the Affray charge.  Well the State of Limitations ran on charging him in 2021 and he was never charged.  He was on the Body Camera footage as unconcerned as could be about the tragedy that had unfolded.  So the Lori family left Friday night with no sense of justice even though the jury verdict was correct. I put Alex’s name in this blog so that if you ever hear the Lori name you’ll associate it with goodness, friendship, and decency. His parents demonstrated it through the trial and the acorn did not fall from from the tree.  Rest in Peace Alex.