SAN DIEGO -- A former Miramar-based Marine who allegedly drove drunk and caused a head-on freeway crash that killed two UCSD medical students is not guilty of murder, a jury decided Monday.
Jason Riley King, 24, faces a maximum of 17 years and four months in prison when he is sentenced April 6 for the May 16, 2015, deaths of 23-year-old Madison Cornwell and 24-year-old Anne Li Baldock. Three others in Cornwell's car were seriously injured.
"This was a case that was 100 percent preventable," Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright said after the verdicts. "We lost two women who were in med school -- were very bright lights -- (and) three others were badly injured. The impact of one person's decisions to decide to drink and drive -- drink in excess and drive -- basically changed the lives of five separate families, as well as the defendant's own family."
King's attorney, Rich Hutton, said the jury got it right by acquitting the defendant of murder.
During the trial, Hutton conceded that King caused the wrong-way accident that killed the victims and injured their friends, leaving one in a coma for some time after the accident. Another victim is struggling to resume his studies in medical school. But he argued that his client wasguilty of gross vehicular manslaughter and DUI, not murder.
"The whole issue in this case was, was it a murder or not?" Hutton said. "We firmly believed it never was, and that's what the jury determined today."
Hutton told jurors that what they learned about drinking and driving during the two weeks of trial was much more than King learned from the military.
In her closing argument, Bright said King was warned not to drink and drive but chose to do it anyway, acting with a conscious disregard for human life.
After getting kicked out of a country western bar, King told a female Marine friend who asked for his keys, "I got myself here, I'll get myself home," Bright told the jury.
Eight days before the fatal crash, a police officer at an on-base "stand-down" told King and hundreds of other Marines that if they drank and drove and hurt or killed someone, they could go to jail, the prosecutor said.
Asked by CHP officers why he drank and got behind the wheel, King "remembered people telling him not to drive" and did it "because I was ignorant," Bright told the jury.
The victims had just left a party in Hillcrest to celebratethe completion of their second year in medical school when Cornwell's Prius was hit head-on by King's raised Ford F350 truck about 1:30 a.m. on northbound state Route 163 near Interstate 8.
An expert testified that King's blood-alcohol content was between .15 and .20 percent at the time of driving, according to the prosecutor.