PORTLAND — Legal arguments have been submitted to Maine’s highest court appealing the manslaughter conviction of a woman held responsible for the deaths of two West Paris teenagers. 

Prosecutors for Oxford County Superior Court and a defense attorney have tendered briefs to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in the case of Kristina Lowe, a 21-year-old woman originally from West Paris who was behind the wheel of  a car when it went off the road and into a thicket of trees in January 2012, killing Rebecca Mason, 16, and Logan Dam, 19. 

Lowe was sentenced in October to eight years in prison with all but 18 months suspended after a jury found her guilty on two counts of manslaughter and one count of leaving the scene of an accident. She has remained free pending appeal. 

Lowe was found guilty by an Oxford County jury following a weeklong trial in May 2014, in which evidence showed she had marijuana and alcohol in her system while she was driving a car back to a party attended by minors in West Paris.

A mile from the party, the car veered off the road, struck a clump of trees and crumpled, killing its two back-seat passengers. Lowe and front-seat passenger Jacob Skaff were injured but walked from the scene to the party.

Skaff testified that right before the crash, Lowe glanced down at her phone to look at an incoming text message, at which point the car began to drift.

She was arrested a few weeks later following an investigation by Maine State Police. 

In August, Active-Retired Justice Robert Clifford upheld the jury’s verdict, denying an appeal for dismissal, a new trial or acquittal on the grounds that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude Lowe could be held criminally responsible. 

Arguments similar to those made during that appeal resurfaced in the high court filings. Defense lawyer James Howaniec contended that Lowe’s actions were civil offenses that did not rise to the level of criminal recklessness required to sustain manslaughter convictions because she was acquitted of criminal operating under the influence.

He argued that the evidence indicated Lowe was only slightly speeding and had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.04 percent, below the state’s 0.08 percent legal limit to drive, as well as marijuana in her system. Although each separately was not enough to convict her, Howaniec said, prosecutors were erroneously allowed to imply that the combination of alcohol and marijuana caused her to be impaired, prompting the jury to find her “guilty of something.” 

Additionally, he said, there was no evidence aside from testimony that Lowe read the text message — received just minutes before the car entered the trees — and there was no indication whether it was opened. 

He said prosecutors erred in relying on testimony from Earl Lowe, Kristina Lowe’s father, that corroborated “conflicting” witness statements suggesting Lowe was impaired, after testimony from police cast doubt on whether Earl ever spoke to his estranged daughter. 

Assistant District Attorney Joseph O’Connor noted past cases of defendants speeding and becoming involved in fatal accidents that resulted in manslaughter convictions, although speeding alone is a civil, not a criminal, penalty.

The bar set for the state to prove — that Lowe acted recklessly, beyond what a normal person would do — was met by her “culpable state of mind” in her attempts to convince party-goers not to call 911 and concerns expressed to state police that she could go to jail, O’Connor wrote. 

He noted that the jury was properly instructed that it could determine alcohol and marijuana use as evidence of impairment, especially when coupled with statements from the defendant that she was “too drunk to drive” and witness testimony that Lowe was visibly intoxicated at the party.

O’Connor rejected the claim that the trial should have been moved, arguing that jurors were thoroughly vetted and no objection was made prior to the trial. 

Lowe’s attorney has 14 days to file a brief in response to the state’s brief, after which the Supreme Court justices are expected to determine whether they’ll decide the case on the briefs alone or will hear oral testimony at a later date.

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