AUGUSTA — Jurors cleared Alexander J. Biddle of a manslaughter charge in the Sept. 18, 2015, ATV crash in Sidney that killed 18-year-old Halee Cummings in the driveway to her father’s home.

Alexander Biddle stands during his manslaughter trial Tuesday in Augusta for operating an ATV on Sept. 18, 2015, that crashed in Sidney and resulted in the death of 18-year-old Halee Cummings. (Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file photo)

Biddle, now 23, of Pittston, did not testify during the three-day trial at the Capital Judicial Center, and his defense did not call witnesses of its own.

The jury of seven women and five men began deliberations at 11:30 a.m. and returned to the courtroom just after 1 p.m. Thursday with a verdict of not guilty.

Some four dozen people — including members of both Biddle’s and Cummings’ families — watched attorneys deliver closing arguments Thursday morning. During much of the trial, including closing arguments, Biddle looked down at the defense table in front of him.

The prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Paul Cavanaugh, told jurors in his closing argument, “This is a difficult, emotional case involving young people in a tragedy.” But he also said that Biddle’s choice to speed up after his ATV encountered a deputy’s cruiser, to drink alcohol that night, to carry a passenger against the manufacturer’s warning, not to wear safety gear including helmets for him and his passenger, add up to recklessness and/or criminal negligence.

“The accumulation of bad decisions does make this a crime,” Cavanaugh said in urging jurors to find Biddle guilty of manslaughter.

Cavanaugh said Biddle’s ATV with Cummings aboard “crossed Shepherd Road and went down the driveway until it went left and they continued straight. The ATV rolled over, ended up in the driveway. it did not hit things. The front end is not damaged. It rolled over. That catapulted Halee into that tree; it killed her.”

Cavanaugh illustrated his closing argument with a PowerPoint presentation, showing a color photo of Cummings’ blue-jean clad body on the ground near trees, audio clips from an interview by police with Biddle that night, and legal definitions of recklessness and criminal negligence.

The manslaughter charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison, says Biddle caused Cummings’ death “recklessly, or with criminal negligence”

The prosecutor said Biddle’s conduct was “a gross deviation of how a reasonable and prudent person would drive.”

Cavanaugh added, “Accidents are unavoidable. This crash and Halee’s death was completely avoidable.”

Defense attorney Pasquale “Pat” Perrino told jurors in his opening statement, “An accident is an accident.” He maintained that argument in his closing argument as well, saying that the criminal investigation by the Maine Warden Service was “sloppy.”

He cited the decision not to conduct an autopsy on Cummings’ body, and the fact that samples of blood and hair found on the tree that apparently Cummings’ struck were not taken, among other things.

Perrino said that Biddle sped up that night only at Cummings’ request. Perrino referred to Trooper Jesse Duda’s audio recording of Biddle’s statement at the hospital that night. On it, Biddle says, “That’s a cop; let’s get out of here.’” In that same interview, Biddle sent his apologies to Cummings’ family. Biddle also wondered about whether he would be charged with manslaughter, and said he was traveling 50-60 mph.

Another ATV operator who was riding behind Biddle’s testified they were traveling 20-25 mph down Philbrick Road and that he came upon Biddle’s overturned four-wheeler on Harland Cummings’ driveway, across the Shepherd Road.

Perrino blamed the crash on potholes in the dirt driveway rather than on the curve in the driveway to Harland “Hardy” Cummings’ home.

“If you’ve ever ridden a 4-wheeler you know how dangerous potholes can be especially on a dirt road,” Perrino said.

As Perrino addressed jurors, Halee Cummings’ mother teared up, holding tissues in her hand.

“This was an accident; it was a tragic accident,” Perrino said. “And these people are quick to think that because there’s a very pretty girl involved in this accident that’s dead that somebody’s going to pay.”

He also faulted the state for bringing an manslaughter indictment against Biddle almost two years after Cummings was killed.

A grand jury in Kennebec County returned the indictment July 20, 2017.

In rebuttal, Cavanaugh said the investigation was done carefully, which took a long time.

On Tuesday, the opening day of the trial, jurors were driven to view several locations where Biddle and Cummings traveled on the ATV that night.

Attorneys stipulated on the blood alcohol levels. Biddle’s blood-alcohol test result was 0.063 percent. The legal driving limit for adults over 21 in Maine is 0.08 percent. A blood sample taken from Cummings’ body at the funeral home showed her blood alcohol level was 0.075 percent.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams


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