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Drunken Driver Convicted of Murder

April 16, 1998

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) _ A man who caused a wreck that killed a 4-year-old girl was convicted Thursday in a rare case in which a drunken driver was found guilty of first-degree murder.

Timothy Blackwell, 37, faces an automatic life sentence. Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty.

Blackwell, who had five previous drunken driving convictions, crossed the center line in his pickup in 1997 and struck a van, snapping the neck of little Megan Dail, whose father was at the wheel. Blackwell’s blood-alcohol level was 0.13 percent, above the 0.08 limit in North Carolina.

Blackwell was charged under the state’s felony murder rule, which allows a defendant to be charged with murder for a death that occurs during the commission of a felony, even if the death is unintentional.

Defense attorney Bob Brown argued that the accident did not amount to first-degree murder.

``He is not attempting to escape,″ Brown told the jury. ``He’s only asking you to find him guilty of what he is guilty of _ involuntary manslaughter.″

Prosecutors won murder convictions in similar cases in North Carolina last year, Washington state in 1996 and California in 1995.

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