Mixed verdict in 2008 fatal crash trial

A file photo of Jennifer Jorgensen in Riverhead

A file photo of Jennifer Jorgensen in Riverhead Criminal Court. (March 21, 2011) (Credit: James Carbone)

A Suffolk jury acquitted a Sound Beach woman Monday of killing a Ridge couple after driving head-on into their car, but convicted her of manslaughter in the death of her own baby, born prematurely as a result of the crash.

Jurors also acquitted Jennifer Jorgensen, 32, of aggravated vehicular homicide and driving while impaired by prescription drugs and alcohol. The mixed verdict left lawyers and family members on both sides confused and disappointed.

Most of the jurors, who asked not to be identified, said the evidence that Jorgensen had been drinking before the May 2008 crash on Whiskey Road in Ridge was weak. No one who treated Jorgensen smelled alcohol on her breath except for a single nurse, who didn't note it in Jorgensen's medical records. And jurors said they were uncomfortable with how Jorgensen's blood was collected and tested.

But they said evidence that Jorgensen was driving without a seat belt, taking the prescription drug clonazepam, speeding and talking on a cellphone constituted reckless conduct for a woman who was eight months pregnant at the time, explaining the conviction for Ashley's death.

Jorgensen burst into tears of relief when she heard the first few "not guilty" verdicts, but she and a courtroom of prosecutors and defense attorneys were taken aback at the conviction over her daughter's death.

The verdict ended a second trial on the charges. A year ago, another jury, also troubled by the blood evidence, failed to reach a verdict in the crash that also killed Robert Kelly, 74, and his wife, Mary, 70.

"We're disappointed, but we're glad she's being held accountable for something," said one of the Kellys' daughters, Virginia Jacoby.

In a statement, the Kelly family said: "Our parents were the kindest and most honorable people we have ever known. They touched the lives of all of those with whom they had contact. After almost four years, we are relieved that we can now focus on the memories of how they lived and not how they died."

Defense attorney Martin Lorenzotti said the verdict made no sense.

"If she didn't cause the Kellys' deaths, how could she cause Ashley's death?" he said, promising an appeal. "She's not going to stop fighting this."

Lorenzotti asked State Supreme Court Justice William Condon to set aside the conviction as inconsistent with the other counts.

Condon denied the request and ordered Jorgensen held on bail of $100,000 cash or $200,000 bond. She faces a maximum of 5 to 15 years in prison when she is sentenced April 18.

Assistant District Attorney Laura Newcombe said she was "grateful that justice was served to the Kellys in one form or another. Ultimately, the jury is the finder of fact, and I respect their decision."

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