AUSTIN (KXAN) - Former legislative staffer Gabrielle Nestande formally entered a not-guilty plea Friday in the May 2011 hit-and-run death of Courtney Griffin.
Perry Minton, Nestande's lawyer said his client was arraigned on the charge of failure to stop and render aid after the 30-year-old Griffin was struck while walking home late at night in the Tarrytown section of Austin. Griffin's body was discovered after dawn the next morning.
"There was a hearing this morning to discuss the jury selection for the start of the trial on Sept. 17," Minton said. "They (prosecutors) are basically getting all their ducks in a row."
No plea deal was offered, he added.
Police linked Nestande to the death when her damaged vehicle was seen parked nearby after the May 27, 2011, incident, with telltale signs consistent with hitting something. Police received an anonymous tip about where the vehicle was parked.
Police were called after a neighbor who was taking out trash at 5:15 a.m. on May 27, 2011, found the Griffin's body near the shoulder of Exposition Boulevard, near the intersection with Enfield Road . Austin Police Department Victim Services officials talked to the neighbor.
It was unclear if Griffin was running or walking, though she was not dressed like she was exercising. Police said she had identification on her.
Police said Griffin's shoes were found near the roadway and her body was thrown through a large bush before landing in the driveway. In the early stages of the investigation police said there were no witnesses and no identifying information on the vehicle that struck Griffin.
Police went to Nestande's workplace in the Texas Capitol where she was employed as a legislative staff member to question her about the damage and the accident. According to the arrest affidavit Nestande admitted she was the only driver of the vehicle "being involved in an accident, being scared and not knowing what to do."
Friends and family of Griffin had hoped that Nestande would be charged with a more serious offense than failing to stop and help, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. They have seized on reports that Nestande had spent the night before the wreck at a downtown nightspot.
Griffin's father, Bart Griffin, said in a September 2011 interview that his daughter's life had been overlooked as the post-accident spotlight focused on the suspect.
Griffin said his daughter had a unique sense of humor and was always fun-spirited.
"She was the life of the party," he said at the time. "Loved to have a good time. She loved kids, loved animals, loved her family. We miss her, very much," he said. "It's just left a huge hole in our hearts."
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