Friday Feb 27 2009
Prosecution rebuts ‘ludicrous’ claims by Moon defense
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
District Attorney’s Office did not withhold evidence, officials say
---------- Editor’s note: To read about the defense’s motion for a new trial, see "Defense claims Moon deserves a new trial" in Monday’s Journal. ---------- For about the last three years, investigators and a prosecutor for the Placer County District Attorney’s Office have sifted through pictures they know no mother wants to see. They’ve examined a car that is mostly a hunk of twisted metal. They’ve presented testimony from experienced first responders in hopes of putting together an image for a jury of a horrific vehicle accident. And in October, they finally felt as though they brought justice to a young man, whose life was tragically cut short, and his family, who will forever feel his loss. Prosecutor Stephanie Macumber is expected to respond to a motion for a new trial a defense attorney has filed for his client, William “Billy” Moon. Moon, 24, was convicted Oct. 10 of second-degree murder and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in the June 3, 2006, death of Placer High School graduate Stewart Shapton. Shapton was 20 years old when he and Moon, both reportedly intoxicated, drove together in a 2004 Infiniti G35 down a rural, curvy road in Auburn. The vehicle reached speeds over 100 mph when it launched off a hill on Bell Road, just south of Hubbard Road, lost control on landing and slammed into several oak trees along the side of the road. Shapton was pronounced dead at the scene. His death shattered the lives of those who knew him, many of whom continued through the end of last year to tell Stewart how much they miss him on his MySpace page. Throughout the trial that started last September, the defense said Shapton was driving while the prosecution argued Moon was behind the wheel. The jury sided with the prosecution. Since that decision was made, Moon’s family has launched a public attack of the trial and of Macumber on a Web site it formed to detail their reasons why Moon received an unfair trial and unjust verdict. Steven Dragland, supervising deputy district attorney, described the claims the family made as “ludicrous and false.” Dragland was Macumber’s supervisor while she did, in Dragland’s words “an absolutely outstanding job” prosecuting the case. “Many convicted criminals disagree with the verdict of the jury when it finds them guilty,” Dragland said. “That doesn’t mean the verdict was unjust. That means the defendant didn’t like the verdict.” Dragland said the second-degree murder charge was completely justified because that is the crime Moon committed. He said Moon’s prior driving under the influence arrest in December 2005 in Orange County factored into the argument that he had a heightened awareness that drinking and driving was wrong yet did it anyway. During the trial, Macumber presented coursework Moon completed in a court-ordered driver’s safety course – he had attended one of the classes a few days before the accident. “The bottom line is he was drunk, he did an act with implied malice and his friend is dead,” Dragland said. “Stewart Shapton is dead.” Shapton’s mother has appeared in court at almost every proceeding. She has sat behind the prosecutor in the courtroom flanked by several friends and family members. On the day the jury handed its guilty verdict, Shapton’s supporters quietly cried and hugged each other. Shapton’s mother quietly declined to comment that day and has since shied away from publicly speaking about the accident or trial. Macumber said the mother has “every right” to make a statement during Moon’s sentencing should it occur and indicated it’s possible she will say something on behalf of her family and her young son. Dragland said taking the case to trial was essentially the only option the prosecution had. He said Moon was not offered a plea deal because one was never requested. “The defense asserted they wanted either a dismissal or a trial,” Dragland said. “They got their trial.” Dragland said from the beginning there was never a question of who was driving the vehicle. An experienced emergency responder testified during the trial that he was the one who had to cut the passenger’s side seat belt to free Shapton’s lifeless body from the passenger’s side seat. Dragland said that fact lead California Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team members to decide not to do a study to determine who was where in the vehicle. “MAIT said occupant kinematics were irrelevant in this case because they knew who was sitting where,” Dragland said. A kinematics expert was a crucial part of the defense’s case during the trial as part of their argument that Moon wasn’t driving Dragland said the defense’s claim that the District Attorney’s Office ordered the team not to do the study couldn’t be further from the truth. “The defense’s assertion that the District Attorney’s Office instructed MAIT to discount an occupant kinematics student only shows that the defense does not know how the MAIT team operates,” Dragland said. “We would not, could not instruct MAIT.” Dragland strongly argued against any other claims the defense made that the prosecution either tainted evidence or withheld it. He said the defense was able to examine the vehicle that was involved in the crash in March 2007. The District Attorney’s Office examined it in September 2006. Despite being informed of the March date, Dragland said the defense didn’t come to look at the vehicle until May 2007. He said it’s a “ludicrous” claim that the defense did not have the opportunity to present a fair trial for Moon. “This defendant had every right to present his defense like every other defendant and did so,” Dragland said. “The jury rejected the defendant’s story.” The Journal's Jenifer Gee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment.