The New York State Appeals Court on Thursday upheld a jury’s decision to convict Martin Heidgen of depraved indifference murder, after he killed a 7-year-old Lido Beach girl and a limousine driver when he drove drunk the wrong way on the Meadowbrook Parkway in 2005.
The panel of seven judges voted 5-2 to uphold the decision after Heidgen’s attorney, Jillian Harrington, argued to the Appeals Court on Oct. 8 that his client was too intoxicated to be convicted of second-degree murder.
Maureen McCormick, of the Nassau County District Attorney’s Vehicular Crimes Bureau, argued to uphold the conviction. Nassau D.A. Kathleen Rice said in a statement about the Appeals Court Decision: “There are times when this crime is murder, and we have to be willing to call it that when we know it will save lives. Hopefully this ruling will give other prosecutors the legal confidence to push for murder convictions for the worst of the worst drunk drivers. We have a long way to go but this is a monumental victory in our fight for safer roads.”
In October 2006, after a five-week trial, Heidgen was convicted of second-degree murder after he drove drunk in a pickup truck traveling in the wrong direction on the Meadowbrook Parkway on July 2, 2005. His vehicle slammed into a limousine that was carrying 7-year-old Katie Flynn, her family and driver Stanley Rabinowitz, 59, of Farmingdale, who were heading home from a wedding in which Katie was the flower girl. Katie and Rabinowitz were killed in the crash.
Police said Heidgen's blood-alcohol content registered .28 percent, well above the legal limit of .08 percent. He is serving a prison sentence of 18 years to life for the crime.
In September 2011, the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division ruled to uphold Heidgen’s conviction after his defense attorney tried to argue that his client should have been tried on the lesser charge of manslaughter, not murder, and that police mishandled blood evidence that measured his level of intoxication.
Court Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, a supporting judge, wrote in an opinion
that Heidgen drove for nearly two miles on the Meadowbrook without reacting to
the horns of drivers coming at him or to wrong-way signs, and that a
toxicologist testified that Heidgen’s blood alcohol level would not render him
incapable of reacting at all, according to the Long Beach
Herald. Lippman wrote:
"Based on this evidence, the jury could have found that, despite defendant’s intoxication, he perceived his surroundings. The jury could have reasonably concluded that defendant drove, knowing that he was on the wrong side of the road and with an appreciation of the grave risks involved in that behavior."
Long Beach Police Commissioner Michael Tangney, who is an uncle to Katie’s mother, Jennifer, told the Herald that the ruling as a tremendous relief for him and his family:
“A tremendous weight has been lifted off our shoulders. There were so many potential ways that this could have gone, anything from a retrial to a vacated plea to time served — the possibilities were endless. The most important thing going forward is that they did away with excuses — the excuse for being drunk is no longer viable.”
Harrington was not available for comment Thursday.