AUSTIN (KXAN) - Gabrielle Nestande, convicted Thursday of criminally negligent homicide in the May 2011 death of Courtney Griffin, now faces two to 10 years behind bars with an option for probation.
She was found not guilty of failure to stop and render aid. The jury also chose not to convict her of intoxication manslaughter or manslaughter.
But jurors did find that the vehicle used in the fatal overnight crash was a deadly weapon. That is why the 25-year-old former Capitol aide who cried as the verdict was read in Judge Karen Sage's courtroom. faces longer than a two-year term in a state jail.
Jurors deliberated for some 20 hours throughout three days. For almost all day Wednesday, family and friends of Courtney Griffin waited for a verdict that did not come. After Thursday's proceedings, the Griffin family was taken to a conference room.
They were seen crying in front of the courthouse after the verdict was announced.
The jury had three charges to consider against Nestande:
- Intoxication manslaughter
- Failure to stop and render aid
Criminally negligent homicide was allowed to be considered as a lesser of the manslaughter charges.
Once the punishment phase began, photos of Griffin as a 2-year-old in a field of bluebonnets and with her family members were shown in the courtroom. Griffin's father, Bart, talked about the horror of learning that his daughter had been killed and left on the driveway of someone's house.
"It's something you never forget," he said, describing the time the Courtney's death as "a nightmare."
He was at work at the time, and did not realize for a long time that he had missed as many as 10 phone calls from police. He recalled his daughter, who was 30 when she died, as an animal lover who once brought home a dog.
Griffin said he didn't want the pet, but decided to keep it anyway. He still has it, he told jurors.
"I cherished our relationship," Griffin said, the prosecution's only witness and completed his testimony in anout 30 minutes. "We were close from when we were a little kid to when she was an adult."
Before Griffin took the stand, prosecutors said they planned to push the jury for a prison sentence for Nestande. The defense team was hoping to persuade jurors that Nestande was deserving of community service under the supervision of a probation officer.
The defense called Nestande's father, former California state Assemblyman Bruce Nestande, as it the first witness in the sentencing phase. He talked about losing a son to a heart condition, saying that he can understand the Griffin family's grief. He also said the experience has no doubt changed his own daughter's life.
"I would presume it has been a tremendous strain on her," he said. "I don't think alcohol will be part of her life."
Asked about a charge from a liquor store on his daughter's credit card days after the crash, Bruce Nestande said that he and she shared use of the card because he was helping her financially at the time.
A Nestande family friend called Gabby, "Loving, compassionate, she cares. The biggest heart of anyone." They added she was "a little naïve."
All testimony wrapped up by 5:30 p.m. and jurors were expected to begin deliberating the sentence on Friday morning. Gabrielle Nestande left the courtroom through the judge's chambers carrying what appeared to be a dark green raincoat.
Follow live tweets from the courtroom on Chris Sadeghi's Twitter feed
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