Murder by Car


You would think that Kalispell, Montana was the seat of common sense when Justine Winter, seventeen at the time, was tried in January, 2011 for deliberate homicide involving the death of Erin Thompson, 35, her unborn child, and her son Caden Odell, 13. Some states call it vehicular homicide.

I say the seat of common sense because the weather is severe enough in the winter to force people to just learn how to survive, because you use your wits much more than you do in a town like New York City where you wrap yourself in another coat or two.

Justine was texting her boyfriend just minutes before the fatal auto crash. They were arguing as young people do. The problem is, she was driving, and seemingly bent on killing herself at least according to 20/20 who pointed out a couple of texts to her boyfriend.

One of Justine’s text messages was, “That’s why I’m going to wreck my car. Because all I can do is f’k up.”

Her last text message was, “Goodbye. My last words.”

According to a witness directly behind Erin Thompson, Justine crossed the center line and plowed head-on into Erin’s car. The witness rushed to Justine’s car. She was still alive. Then he rushed to Erin’s car. If she was alive, she didn’t live long. The witness might not have been able to determine Caden’s condition, but, much like his mother, if he were still alive, did not live long.

The investigators determined that Justine’s car was going 85 mph where the four-lane road had narrowed to two lanes because of road construction. That was 30 mph over the speed limit. The cars were mangled so badly, it was difficult to tell what kind of cars they were.

Justine wound up in Intensive Care for several weeks, but survived.

She claimed to have no memory of the accident when she recovered.

How convenient in view of the fact that she sued Erin Thompson’s estate in July 2010 claiming the fatal crash was Erin’s fault, that Erin had been guilty of negligent driving.

Justine had a litany of agonies in her lawsuit such as permanent injuries, loss of capacity to enjoy life, future loss of income, and past, present, and future medical expenses.

Justine’s father joined in the suit because Justine was a minor, although for the trial she was being tried as an adult.

The defense brought in their parade of witnesses to substantiate their claims. A psychologist who claimed Justine was not trying to kill herself. An accident investigator who maintained it could have been Erin’s fault. Other witnesses who knew Justine, and said she would never kill herself.

How do these people sleep at night after that kind of testimony? The psychologist and accident investigator collected checks for their time in the witness box. The other folks must have gone outside the courthouse and collected their consciences because I don’t think they had them in the courtroom.

The jury, displaying a lot of common sense, deliberated only two or three hours before finding Justine guilty. Needless to say with the guilty verdict, Justine’s civil suit against the estate of Erin Thompson, melted away in the frozen tundra of Kalispell.

At the sentencing, the defense and prosecutors questioned Justine. The prosecutor gave Justine a chance to apologize to the husband and family of Erin. She said I’m sorry about like she went in an ice cream shoppe, and found out she only got two scoops of ice cream on a cone instead of three, with the lament, “Gee, I’m sorry it couldn’t have been three,” which is the exact number of people she killed.

Then she further augured the bizarre by saying to the effect that she didn’t know what the prosecutor meant by being sorry. What? Did I misunderstand that? I don’t think so.

Apparently the judge, a woman, wasn’t listening to Justine’s apology or lack thereof. Had I been the judge I would have nailed Justine’s hide to the wall on that one. The cell wall where she would be spending the rest of her life.

Instead the judge, whom I characterize as having no common sense, gave her 30 years for taking the life of Erin. But wait, there’s a slight codicil. The judge suspended 15 years of that sentence. I guess Caden’s life was not as important as his Mom’s. The judge only gave Justine 15 years for killing him.

I don’t think the unborn had a seat at the justice table on this one. No sentence was meted out for him/her.

As you would expect Justine’s lawyers filed appeals which were later denied.

With a 15-year sentence, Justine is eligible for a parole hearing in 7 ½ years from the time she began her sentence. That means late 2018 or early 2019 she will have a chance for a get out of jail free card.

I hope Erin’s husband appears before the Pardons and Parole Board (P&PB) in Montana, doesn’t say a word, and plays Justine’s apology or lack thereof when asked by the prosecutor at her trial if she wanted to apology to Erin’s husband and Erin’s family.

Then he should just stand up, stare at the members of the P&PB individually, and walk out.

There was a loss of capacity to enjoy life as claimed in Justine’s civil lawsuit. It was totally off-name. It wasn’t Justine’s loss of capacity to enjoy life. It was Erin’s at 35, and Caden’s at 13 and a young child who today would be 5 ½.

We are all born into this world as innocent human beings. That doesn’t mean we all grow up that way.

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