BANGOR — A defense lawyer has asked the state’s highest court to throw out a manslaughter conviction on the grounds that the deaths of two West Paris teenagers in 2012 did not occur as the result of a crime. 

James Howaniec told Maine Supreme Court justices Wednesday morning that once jurors acquitted his client, Kristina Lowe, of operating under the influence, no crime was committed. 

Lowe, 22, was in the courtroom at the Penobscot Judicial Center with members of her family Wednesday.

In January 2012, she was living in West Paris and returning to an underage party when the car she was driving went off Route 219 into trees, killing back-seat passengers Rebecca Mason, 16, and Logan Dam, 19. Lowe was 18 years old at the time.

Lowe and front-seat passenger Jacob Skaff, 22, of Paris, were injured.

In September 2014, Lowe was sentenced to 18 months in prison after an Oxford County 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.

Jim Mason Jr., an uncle of Rebecca Mason, attended the proceedings Wednesday, saying he was representing his brother and Rebecca’s father, Jerrold Mason. Jim Mason declined to comment. 

Howaniec told justices that his client’s constitutional rights were violated when Kristina’s father, Earl Lowe, was allowed to testify that his daughter told him she was drunk and texting. Howaniec, who objected to the admission of the evidence during trial and filed a failed post-conviction appeal with the lower court, said that testimony had been suppressed and its admission devastated his case. 

Aside from Earl’s testimony, Howaniec said there was no proof Lowe was impaired or had read an incoming text message received moments before the car hit the trees.

Prompted by Justice Jeffrey Hjelm as to whether Earl’s testimony was ill-timed or simply false, Howaniec said correct or not, glancing at a phone is only about as distracting as changing the radio.

“About 30,000 people a year die in motor vehicle crashes across the country every year, many of which are caused by negligence. But they’re accidents, not crimes,” Howaniec said outside the courtroom. 

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley asked whether the jury was right to take each individual factor — speeding, marijuana in her system, a 0.04 percent blood alcohol level and inattention — together to find that, accumulated, Lowe was too impaired to drive.

“We all know looking away from a dark road can cause a horrible accident,” Saufley said.

Representing the state, Oxford County Assistant District Attorney Joseph O’Connor latched on to that theme. He argued that even though the court has upheld manslaughter convictions in which the driver was distracted, the court need not focus on whether Lowe’s actions resulted in a crime because it was a matter for the jury, not the court, to decide whether Lowe acted recklessly, beyond what a normal person would do. 

O’Connor disagreed that Lowe’s acquittal on a charge of operating under the influence was grounds for an acquittal on manslaughter, arguing that the jury was instructed to review each charge separately. 

When Justice Ellen Gorman suggested Howaniec had a point that many people take their eyes off the road, O’Connor produced a cellphone from his coat pocket and said he’d received calls on his cellphone driving on the highway that morning but, at 75 mph, he didn’t want to be distracted. 

Hjelm pressed O’Connor on whether Earl Lowe should have been allowed to testify that his daughter told him she was drunk and texting, when the court had suppressed a taped recording and testimony by a Maine State Police trooper to the same effect because police failed to read Kristina Lowe her legal rights.

O’Connor said that a year and a half before the trial, he told defense lawyers Earl Lowe might testify. O’Connor said the defense had the trooper’s statements suppressed but never raised objections about Earl before the trial.

If it was unfair, O’Connor asked, “Why did no one talk to Earl (during) a 20-month period?” 

Both lawyers said they expected a decision in two to three months. 

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