HAVERHILL — More than three years after the fatal crash that led to two mistrials, Marie Pigaga was convicted of motor vehicle homicide yesterday and will spend 60 days in jail.
Pigaga, 50, of 8 Middle Road, Plaistow, was charged in connection with the death of Robin Young, 43, of Danville, who was struck by Pigaga's black 2000 Mercedes-Benz at Haffner's gas station on Route 125 the afternoon of June 18, 2007.
Haverhill District Court Judge Stephen Abany imposed a sentence of a year in jail, with 60 days to be served and the balance suspended for five years. Pigaga's driver's license will be taken away for 15 years.
The judge also ordered Pigaga to perform 100 hours of community service, preferably at a hospital, nursing home or homeless shelter. Pigaga is a registered nurse who worked at nursing homes.
In Pigaga's third trial, the jury of three men and three women deliberated for six hours Thursday, then another hour and a half yesterday morning before reaching the verdict. The jurors began their work yesterday morning by asking the judge about the definitions of homicide and negligence.
Abany said homicide is the killing of another person. Negligence, he said, is the failure to use "due care." The main question for the jury, the judge said, should be, "Was she operating negligently?"
Jury foreman: 'We made the correct decision'
About an hour and a half after asking the judge their questions, jurors returned to the courtroom at 11:07 a.m. and foreman Rick Battistini of Haverhill announced the verdict. Pigaga was found guilty on two charges — negligent operation of a motor vehicle, and homicide by negligent operation of a motor vehicle.
"I feel that the entire judicial system in this case did an absolutely excellent job," Battistini told The Eagle-Tribune after the trial. "The lawyers, the witnesses, in particular the jurors and the judge, did everything, in our estimation, correctly. The court officers were fantastic throughout this two-week ordeal."
Asked if there was anything in particular that persuaded the jurors to find Pigaga guilty, Battistini, an award-winning local swimming coach and manager of Haverhill TV and Appliance, said, "Everything that happened for two weeks gave us a finality that we were comfortable in the fact that we made the correct decision."
As Pigaga, showing no outward emotion, stood to hear the verdict, attorney Carl Donaldson, who defended her during all three trials, put his arm around her briefly. The judge then said he must consider four factors in sentencing: rehabilitation, punishment, public safety and deterrence.
Assistant District Attorney Lisa Core, noting the maximum sentence for motor vehicle homicide is two and a half years in jail, asked for a term of equal length, with a year to be served and the balance suspended for five years. She also called for 100 hours of community service.
Donaldson, calling his client a "perfect candidate for probation," requested a suspended sentence. He also said Pigaga is "extremely remorseful" about what happened to Young and "stands ready to apologize to the family."
After Abany imposed the 60-day jail term, the judge denied Donaldson's request that Pigaga be put on a monitoring bracelet for seven days while getting her affairs in order.
Chief Court Officer Rick Bevilacqua handcuffed Pigaga at 1:45 p.m. and she was transported to the state prison in Framingham. A friend who accompanied Pigaga during the nine days of her third trial patted her on the shoulder.
Victim's family vigilant
Young's parents, Harlan and Elizabeth Tozier, attended every day of all three trials.
"Justice has finally been served," Elizabeth Tozier said. "The family will now be able to get on with the healing process."
When Young was struck by Pigaga's Mercedes-Benz around 1 p.m., Young was wiping down her GMC Denali after taking it through the carwash. Seated in the Denali was her daughter Taylor, who was 12 at the time.
Taylor's impact statement was read in court before the judge imposed Pigaga's sentence. Taylor told how her mother picked her up at school and they planned to go to the mall that day, the last day of school. But first, her mother insisted they had to get her car washed.
"Mom, do we have to?" Taylor recalled asking. "I gave her a dirty look." But as she sat in the Denali, she remembered thinking, "What a great day! My mom's my best friend in the world."
Suddenly, she wrote, "I saw a car driving crazy. 'Mom! Mom!' I yelled. ... Then I saw her lying on the ground, helpless." Taylor held her mother's hand before Young was taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, where she died later that afternoon. She thought her mother would survive, despite the severity of her injuries.
The judge remarked on the articulateness of Taylor's statement.
Not Pigaga's first brush with the law
Jurors in the first trial deliberated for more than eight hours before reporting to Abany that they were hopelessly deadlocked on April 3, 2009. Earlier this year, Abany kept the jury talking for almost 15 hours before declaring a mistrial on Feb. 24.
At all three trials, Donaldson, the defense attorney, told of how Pigaga came to the United States from her native Cameroon and "pulled herself up by her bootstraps." She became a registered nurse and acquired rental property in New Jersey, he said. On the day of the crash, Pigaga was almost at the end of a six-hour drive from New Jersey, where she had gone to check on her property, she said.
But this was not her first encounter with the criminal justice system. Core, while presenting her sentencing recommendation to Abany, noted Pigaga was found guilty in Plaistow District Court in 2004 of simple assault on a police officer and resisting arrest. She received a one-year suspended sentence for the assault charge, while the complaint for resisting arrest was filed.
"We are pleased with the jury's verdict and thank them for their hard work," Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said after yesterday's guilty finding.