LOS ANGELES — A state appeals court panel on Thursday upheld the conviction of an elderly man whose car plowed through the Wednesday Farmers’ Market in July 2003, killing 10 people and injuring 68 others.
The three-justice panel from the Second District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s claim that errors were made in the trial of Santa Monica resident George Russell Weller, who was found guilty in October 2006 of 10 counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence following a four-week trial that included more than 30 witnesses, including experts on traffic collisions and scores who were at the market and testified to seeing bodies bounce of Weller’s sedan as he drove through the entire length of the market.
Weller, who was 86 at the time of the accident, was sentenced to five years probation and order to pay $57,500 for restitution and $44,200 in fines, penalties and fees. The judge, Michael Johnson, said Weller deserved to go to prison, but because of his advanced age and failing health, he opted for probation. Weller was nearly 90 years old when he was convicted.
In a 24-page opinion, the appellate court panel turned down the defense’s contention that the trial court erred in ruling on evidence and jury instructions and in denying a motion for a new trial.
The justices also rejected the defense’s contention that the trial court erred by allowing certain crime scene and autopsy photographs of the victims to be admitted during trial.
“We have viewed the photographs about which defendant complains and find no basis upon which to conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing them into evidence,” Presiding Justice Robert M. Mallano wrote on behalf of the panel.
Weller’s defense attorney Mark Overland could not be reached for comment.
The accident occurred on July 16 2003 around 1:45 p.m. after Weller rear-ended a Mercedes Benz at the corner of Arizona Avenue and Fourth Street. Some witnesses said Weller, who was on his way home after mailing a letter to his niece, drove around the Mercedes and accelerated rapidly into the market, as if he was trying to flee the scene of an accident.
Weller’s defense argued that their client suffered from “pedal error,” became confused and disoriented following the fender-bender and lost control of his 1992 Buck LaSabre as it barreled into the market.
Jurors ultimately sided with the prosecution, which argued that Weller had plenty of time to react and stop his vehicle.
The death toll from the 20-second drive was at the time the largest number of pedestrian fatalities from a traffic accident in California history, according to the California Highway Patrol.