October 28, 2009 10:15:00 AM
By Rob Young/Appeal-Democrat
A Linda man who was allegedly under the influence of drugs when the stolen pickup he was driving struck and killed a Yuba County woman on a bicycle pleaded no contest Tuesday and is expected to go to prison for more than 10 years.
Andrew Louis Cornett, 24, had been charged with the second-degree murder of 32-year-old Lucinda Gills. He entered the plea in Yuba County Superior Court to a reduced charge of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
Cornett was under the influence of a narcotic analgesic, cocaine and marijuana when he sped through a red light and hit Gillis on May 31 at North Beale Road and Feather River Boulevard, said Deputy District Attorney Teresa P. Sydow.
Gillis was riding her bike behind her identical twin sister, Lucretia Ann Boyman, who was on another bike with Boyman’s 3-year-old son.
In a legal brief, prosecutors said Gillis’ family wanted to see Cornett convicted of second-degree murder. But a five-hour delay in obtaining a urine sample from Cornett, and the failure by an investigating officer to ask the right questions and determine if Cornett had any fresh injection marks on his arm, left doubt about whether 12 jurors would have convicted him on the greater charge, they said.
Cornett fled after the collision. It would have been impossible to prove he had not ingested drugs during the 43 minutes that elapsed before he was arrested, they said.
No blood sample was taken, they said.
Prosecutors “have spoken with the toxicologist in this case and based on a urine sample alone, he could not give an opinion as to impairment at the time of the collision, thereby leaving (prosecutors) to rely upon the opinion of the investigating officer and his training in Drug Recognition Evaluation,” they said.
They called the officer “relatively inexperienced” in drug evaluations.
Prosecutors said they “see this negotiated plea as a trade-off between the certainty of punishment and protection of society versus the inherent uncertainly of meeting the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt by the unanimous verdict of all 12 jurors.”
Judge Debra Givens accepted the plea and set a Nov. 30 sentencing date for Cornett.
He has two prior convictions for driving under the influence and one for driving recklessly when alcohol was a factor, according to Deputy District Attorney John Vacek.