A Tuolumne County Superior Court Judge conditionally granted a motion to sever the trial of a Sonora nurse from her husband, a Sonora doctor accused of causing a triple-fatal La Grange Road collision in October 2016, on the grounds that an alleged confession made by the husband in December 2016 would infringe on her right to a fair trial.
Diane Anderson, who is accused as an accessory to the charges levied against her husband, Dr. Danny Anderson, sat quietly to the right of her attorney, Kirk McAllister, of Modesto, while her husband sat a few rows behind her in the audience.
Judge Donald Segerstrom emphasized that his ruling on Wednesday afternoon was in fact conditional based upon the preference of the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office. The prosecution could choose to exclude the entire statement and maintain the joint trial, he said, or have separate trials where the statement would still be admissible as evidence against Danny Anderson.
After the hearing, District Attorney Laura Krieg said that she planned to review the ruling, but there was no chance that she would exclude Danny Anderson’s statement from a trial.
“We are going to consider the court’s ruling. We are happy to do two trials. Our focus remains on getting justice for victims,” she said.
On Sept. 29, 2017, Sonora-area California Highway Patrol officer Jason Austin testified during the Anderson’s joint preliminary hearing that Danny Anderson admitted to crossing the double-yellow lines on La Grange Road to pass two vehicles in front of him and saw the accident occur behind him.
Austin testified that Danny Anderson denied responsibility for the accident that killed three people and injured three more, but he began “visibly shaking” and “bouncing his legs” when Austin suggested he may have been at fault.
Austin added that Danny Anderson saw the Lexus coming toward him, but the driver may have been distracted or that the accident was caused by another vehicle.
Austin also testified that Danny Anderson said he knew the CHP was looking for a white Acura MDX following the accident, but ignored it because he didn’t believe he was involved with the accident.
Diane Anderson was not mentioned during the interview, but the crux of the defense’s argument was that she would be implicated.
McAllister referenced the “myth of the jury not to consider something which they heard,” despite Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Novelli’s argument that a limiting jury instruction would be adequate to only apply the statement to Dr. Danny Anderson.
“The bell would be unable to be unrung,” he said.
Krieg entered the courtroom partway through the deliberations and conferred with Novelli at least twice during the proceeding.
Novelli additionally argued that the statement would not be introduced as evidence against Diane Anderson, and that would be made clear to a jury during a potential joint trial.
“The people are not offering Danny Anderson’s statement about what he said and what he did towards her,” she said.
Segerstrom said his concerns about the statement were outlined in “Crawford vs. Washington,” a 2004 Supreme Court decision that verified a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to cross examine and evaluate testimonial statements made outside of court.
Segerstrom said the statement would be inadmissible in court because Diane Anderson would not be able to cross-examine her husband’s statement in her own defense.
“She’s sitting right next to him. The confrontation issue is totally clear. It’s a testimonial statement,” Segerstrom said. “They do incriminate her. There’s no way around it.”
Segerstrom said the prosecution should notify him of their decision to sever the trials and keep the statement, or proceed with the joint trial with the statement excluded, at their next scheduled hearing on April 18.
On that day, the court will continue with another defense motion to compel the release of all personnel records for CHP Officer Joelle McChesney, the first responding officer to the accident on Oct. 21, 2016.
On April 2, Segerstrom privately reviewed recent records possessed by the CHP on McChesney, and though he noted nothing in them would require disclosure, he said that the file did not contain information from 2008 when McChesney pleaded no contest to three counts of misdemeanor accessing a computer to alter, destroy or use data for a criminal purpose, following an arrest in Yolo County.
McChesney, who was stationed at the CHP Academy in West Sacramento when she was arrested, was fired following the plea but was later reinstated and employed by the Woodland-area CHP office prior to being hired by the Sonora-area office.
Deputy Attorney General William McMahon said the CHP has a five-year retention rule regarding personnel files, and after five years the files are purged from internal affairs and master records.
McChesney testified during a preliminary hearing that Danny Anderson had pronounced one of the victims dead at the scene, and that she had connected his ownership of a white 2014-2016 Acura MDX to the accident.
McChesney testified the head-on collision of a 2009 Toyota Camry and a 2002 Lexus RX300 had been caused by the driver of a white vehicle that crossed the double-yellow lines.
Tina Hoffman, 51, Trista Hoffman, 16, and Reinholt Eismann, 72, died. Dillon Hoffman, 17, sustained two broken legs. Annie Johnson, 16, sustained brain hemorrhages. Dorothy Eismann, 66, sustained minor injuries.
Danny Anderson has been charged on suspicion of three felony counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence with enhancement charges of fleeing the scene, one count of hit and run resulting in death or serious injury of six people, one count of reckless driving causing specific injury or death for the three fatalities, and misdemeanors destroying or concealing evidence and obstructing a police investigation.
Diane Anderson faces one count of felony hit and run resulting in death or serious injury of the six involved parties, accessory after the fact to the vehicular manslaughter charge, and misdemeanor charges of destroying or concealing evidence and obstructing an investigation.
Both have pleaded not guilty to all charges.