An Orange County jury must decide this week whether a former UNC student acted with malice when he drove drunk the wrong way last year and crashed head-on into another car.
The jury, which deliberated for more than eight hours since Thursday, will return to Superior Court in Hillsborough at 9:30 a.m. Monday.
Chandler Kania, 21, of Asheboro, is facing three felony second-degree murder charges and one misdemeanor reckless driving charge. The jury also could find him not guilty or guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
The crash killed three passengers in the other car – Darlene McGee, Felecia Harris King and King’s granddaughter Jahnice Beard, 6. King’s young daughter, Jahnia King, now 11, was seriously injured.
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Kania already has pleaded guilty to several charges, including three counts of felony death by motor vehicle, felony causing serious injury and driving while impaired.
Malice, under North Carolina law, is the key difference between second-degree murder and manslaughter in fatal DWI crashes. The law states:
“The malice necessary to prove second degree murder is based on an inherently dangerous act or omission, done in such a reckless and wanton manner as to manifest a mind utterly without regard for human life and social duty and deliberately bent on mischief.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has noted that in most fatal DWI cases, the driver is prosecuted for manslaughter when there is no proof that he or she “acted while intoxicated for the purpose of wantonly and intentionally putting other people’s lives in danger,” said Shea Denning, a UNC School of Government professor of public law and government.
In second-degree murder cases, the jury must find that the driver ignored established standards for the “regard for life and the safety of others,” she said.
That was the case for Daniel Brennick, a Southport man convicted of second-degree murder in 2012. Brennick refused a ride home and ran vehicles off the road before crashing head-on into another car, killing the driver.
“In cases involving impaired driving resulting in death, the state may demonstrate malice by showing that the defendant intended to drive in a way that was so reckless that he should have known that injury or death were likely,” said Denning, who specializes in motor vehicle and criminal laws.
“Driving in such a way shows depravity of mind,” she said.
Second-degree murder has not been proven in other cases.
A Wake County jury in 2011 failed to reach a unanimous vote on second-degree murder in the case of Raymond Cook, a doctor charged with killing a woman in a drunken-driving crash. The jury ultimately found Cook guilty of impaired driving, involuntary manslaughter and felony death by vehicle.