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Jurors to get case Monday in fatal bus stop crash

Updated Saturday, March 28, 2009 | 12:43 a.m.

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Steven Murray

Jury deliberations will begin Monday in the trial of a man charged in a July bus stop crash that left one woman dead and another without her legs.

Prosecutors and the defense rested their cases Friday and presented closing arguments late into the evening in the case against Steven N. Murray, 44, who is facing charges of vehicular homicide and driving while under the influence of a controlled substance resulting in an accident with fatality or bodily harm.

Murray never took the stand. His wife has been present each day of the trial but never was called to testify.

Because Murray has previous convictions for driving under the influence, the charges can carry a life sentence, prosecutors said.

Police say Murray was under the influence of prescription narcotics when he lost control of his red 2001 Dodge pickup and rammed into a bus stop on Boulder Highway near its intersection with Flamingo Road. The wreck, which left 55-year-old Patricia Hoff dead and then-26-year-old Porsche Hughes maimed, happened at 5:36 a.m. on July 7, 2008, as Murray was on his way to work as an electrician.

Members of Hoff's family have been in the courtroom throughout the trial. Hughes, who testified Wednesday, is expected to return to the Regional Justice Center in downtown Las Vegas to hear the verdict, her father said.

In closing arguments, defense attorney Stephen Immerman asked jurors to look inward as they come to a verdict.

"The horror, the pain and the agony cannot be measured. It cannot," he said of the wreck.

Prosecutor L.J. O'Neale said Murray had two prescriptions for oxycodone written on the same day, each for a large quantity of pills. Immerman said the prescriptions were valid and that the prosecution was being inflammatory.

"It's a paper tiger ... it's a red heron and there are lots of them in this case," Immerman said.

Several law enforcement officers and investigators testified throughout the trial. Immerman said that because the officers wanted a certain outcome in the trial, they might have been influenced to testify untruthfully.

"Is it not about justice; is it about winning?" he asked.

O'Neale, in his rebuttal to the defense's closing argument, called Murray's condition at the time of the accident a "picture-perfect example of impairment."

Holding an evidence box containing blood samples drawn from Murray on the day of the crash, he said testimony supported the prosecution's assertion that the drugs in Murray's system caused him to be an impaired driver -- and impairment was what caused the fatal crash.

"Patricia Hoff's blood is in the dirt. Porsche Hughes' blood is on the road. Mr. Murray's blood is in the box," he said.

Forensic specialists testified Friday about drugs in Murray's blood and whether the drugs could have caused him to be impaired.

At the scene of the crash, Murray told police he had taken Percocet and Valium, which blood tests later proved were in his system. Michael Stypa, a Metro Police forensic scientist, testified Friday that the drugs caused Murray to be impaired.

Although there is no set standard for the level of prescription drugs one can take to be considered impaired (such as the .08 legal limit for alcohol), Raymond C. Kelly, who testified for the prosecution as a witness in the field of forensic toxicology, said that based on reviewing toxicology and police reports, Murray was impaired.

Drugs can affect a person's ability to drive, even if prescribed by a doctor, Kelly said.

"A drug is a drug, regardless of what the source is," he said.

Murray's attorneys have said the drugs in his system didn't impair his ability to operate a vehicle. Two witnesses testified in his defense.

A paramedic who took Murray to University Medical Center after the accident said when she examined him in the ambulance, his pupils weren't constricted. Prosecution witnesses had testified that Murray exhibited several signs of being under the influence of controlled substances, including constricted pupils, slurred speech and unsteady balance.

John Hiatt, a forensic chemist, testified that the level of oxycodone in Murray's blood was consistent with his prescription history.

"I would expect it to have very minimal impact on his ability to drive a vehicle," Hiatt said. "Based on the lab results ... there's a good chance he would not have been impaired."

Murray has been incarcerated in the Clark County Detention Center since his arrest the day of the accident.

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