Courtney Farnsworth Lemmon, 23, elected to be sentenced by trial Judge Lauren Parish of the 115th District Court rather than the jury, which convicted Ms. Lemmon Tuesday on one of three counts of the offense. She was acquitted of the others, said Upshur County Assistant District Attorney Natalie Miller, who jointly prosecuted with fellow Assistant District Attorney Camille Henson.
Ms. Lemmon, who is seeking probation, could receive six to 18 months in state jail instead, and Ms. Miller said Thursday the state will recommend a jail term because of the offense’s seriousness. The defendant is free on bond pending sentencing.
Ms. Lemmon was charged with committing the crimes the night of April 28, while her three children, all under age six, were in the back seat of her vehicle. Represented by Tyler attorney John Eastland, she pleaded not guilty.
Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Sandy Mac Taylor stopped her on Texas Highway 155 in a rural area for a defective headlight only five minutes after Winona police had stopped her for the same violation, Ms. Miller said.
Ms. Miller said a video of the traffic stop presented during the two-day trial showed Ms. Lemmon initially told Taylor she hadn’t drank anything that night, but that he smelled alcohol, had her step out of her car, and performed a field sobriety test.
“She started changing her story,” saying she had been drinking in Austin and that something had spilled in her car either the day before or a few days earlier, Ms. Miller said. Ms. Lemmon wanted a breathalyzer test, but state law requires a mandatory blood test, the prosecutor said.
The defense contended Ms. Lemmon wasn’t intoxicated at the time she was driving. But the Tyler DPS chemist who tested her blood, Karen Ream, “kind of blew that defense out of the water” by saying the stop happened around 11:15 p.m. and her blood was drawn at 11:40, Ms. Miller said.
Thus, “There wasn’t that much time” for the level to rise or fall, and Ms. Ream testified the blood alcohol concentration was “very close to what it was at the time she (the defendant) was driving,” the prosecutor said.
Eastland also maintained that machines that test blood alcohol levels “can be wrong,” but the state obtained four blood alcohol concentration readings on Ms. Lemmon that all were very close, if not identical, Ms. Miller added.
Jurors took about two hours to convict the defendant of one charge and acquit her of the other two, although three children were in the vehicle, the prosecutor said. Asked why jurors reached a split verdict, Ms. Miller said, “I don’t know. I guess they didn’t want her to have three felony convictions. … I respect their verdict.”
Ms. Miller said she believed the children were in child safety seats, as required by law, when their mother was stopped. The law on driving while intoxicated with a child passenger applies to children under age 15.
Ms. Lemmon neither testified nor presented any witnesses in the trial, which opened Monday, Ms. Miller said.
State witnesses besides Taylor and Ms. Ream included Neil Sheffield, an ETMC-Gilmer hospital technician who drew the blood; and DPS Trooper Robbie Moore, who took it to Tyler for testing.