SLIDESHOW: [A] Jason Tarr sits at the defense table April 30 at the start of his trial on murder and intoxication manslaughter charges. [B] State District Judge Jack Robison and Hays County District Attorney Wes Mau (foreground) [C] San Marcos attorney Billy McNabb, who is representing Tarr along with Scot Courtney of San Marcos and George Scharmen of San Antonio. PHOTOS by SMTX NEWS VIA POOL
by BRAD ROLLINS
Jason Tarr’s defense attorneys rested their case on Tuesday, seven days into the prominent real estate broker’s trial on murder and intoxication manslaughter charges.
A jury is expected to begin deliberations on Wednesday following closing arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys. The panel — 12 jurors and two alternates — will be sequestered until they reach a verdict, sleeping overnights at a local hotel if necessary, 207th State District Judge Jack Robison said at the close of proceedings today.
Tarr was driving south on FM 1626 near Buda in September 2014 when he crossed into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with a convertible driven by 60-year-old Nancy Sterling Dalton. She died at the scene in the crumpled wreckage of her car.
The prosecutors, Hays County District Attorney Wes Mau and assistant district attorney Jennifer Stalbaum, have called a parade of witnesses whose testimony they say proves Tarr was drunk at the time of the collision.
One Austin couple testified that they followed Tarr’s truck for miles before the accident and became increasingly concerned as it swerved repeatedly into the opposite lane. Tarr gave conflicting stories about the wreck, telling Buda police officer Joshua Albarez at the scene that another car had stopped abruptly in front of him and later telling state trooper Kevin Lashlee that the car had pulled out suddenly into his lane. When Lashlee told Tarr that he would have to involuntarily submit a blood sample, Tarr rolled out of a hospital bed and appeared to try to flee, the trooper testified.
Footage from Albarez’s body camera, on the other hand, shows Tarr walking without any apparent difficulty and talking without any discernible slurring.
The defense, lead by San Marcos attorneys Billy McNabb and Scot Courtney, have relied primarily on cross-examination of the state’s witnesses and two experts of their own to cast doubt about the reliability of a field sobriety test and the subsequent blood-alcohol testing.
Samuel Salinas, a former state crime lab technician, and his supervisor, Anna Mudd, testified for more than 10 hours collectively during the course of several days about methodology used for testing blood samples for alcohol. Under questioning by George Scharmen, a third defense attorney, Salinas said he was under orders to rush testing of Tarr’s sample and inadvertently gave it a duplicate file name in a computer system.
Salinas and Mudd insist that the error does not affect the outcome of their testing, which found Tarr’s blood sample to contain an alcohol concentration of 0.102, more than the legal limit of 0.08. The test has a margin of error of about 10 percent, Mudd testified.
Justin Hrabovsky, Tarr’s golfing partner at a charity tournament, testified today that Tarr drank only two or three beers during a six- or seven-hour period prior to the fatal wreck.
The jury will have the option of convicting or acquitting on one or both of two charges: Murder, a first-degree felony punishable by up to life in prison, and intoxication manslaughter, a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison. Tarr’s prosecution is one of, if not the first, cases in Hays County in which a murder indictment stemmed from a drunken driving case.
Depending on instructions Robison gives them tomorrow, jurors might also have the option of convicting Tarr on driving while intoxicated. Because Tarr already has two driving while intoxication convictions, a third would be a felony under state law punishable by two to 10 years in jail.