A motion and sentencing hearing for a Sonora doctor convicted of triple manslaughter was postponed to Jan. 18 to give the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office more time to prepare a response to a defense motion requesting a new trial.
Roger Nuttall, a Fresno-based attorney representing Dr. Danny Anderson, said the “hundreds of pages” long motion cited the failure of Anderson’s trial lawyer, Tom Johnson, to call an accident reconstruction expert witness who said an unknown vehicle caused the triple-fatal collision to testify.
“We are hoping that the court in fact grants a new trial. We feel that the reasons set forth are compelling,” he said.
Anderson has been held in the Tuolumne County Jail since Sept. 7 after being convicted of three counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, reckless driving, hit and run, and the misdemeanor charge of obstructing a police investigation by a jury on July 25 for his role in causing an Oct. 21, 2016 triple-fatal accident on J-59.
Tuolumne County District Attorney Laura Krieg said she believed Anderson “received a fair trial from a jury of his peers.”
“We do not agree at the arguments that they've put forth. We are prepared to respond in writing with a very lengthy response,” she said.
The new trial motion and sentencing hearing was originally scheduled for Friday in Department 1 of the Tuolumne County Superior Court. The hearing was held on Tuesday by a Tuolumne County Superior Court judge following a request from the District Attorney’s Office for additional time to prepare their response.
Nuttall said he and Anderson appeared at the hearing. Nuttall again made a request for Anderson to be released on bail pending his next court date, but that motion was denied, he said.
The hearing was held at approximately 3 p.m., Nuttall said. Representatives of the Tuolumne County Superior Court said they did not keep a physical record of the Tuesday court calendar because the calendars are updated online at the end of each day. They did not know whether the continuance hearing appeared on the calendar.
The motion and sentencing hearing scheduled for Friday appeared on the online court calendar on Thursday, but not on the physical sheet at the court on Friday afternoon.
The new motion and sentencing hearing is scheduled for Jan. 18 at 1:30 p.m. in Department 1. The new trial motion will precede the sentencing hearing. If the motion is denied, the sentencing hearing will proceed with victim witness statements from survivors of the collision and family members of the deceased. The hearing is expected to last about four hours.
The collision resulted in the death of Tina Hoffman, 51, and her daughter, Trista Hoffman, 16, in the Lexus, and Reinholt Eismann, 72, in the Camry. Lexus passengers Dillon Hoffman, 17, sustained two broken legs, and Annie Johnson, 16, sustained brain hemorrhages. Camry driver Dorothy Eismann, 66, sustained minor injuries.
The new trial motion says that Anderson’s trial counsel “deprived him of the right to a fair trial and the opportunity to clear his name in the eyes of the public.”
Johnson’s office was supplied with a preliminary report by a retained defense expert which corroborated the claim made by defense witness Christina Hodge that an unknown vehicle driving southbound on J-59 caused the triple-fatal accident, the document said.
The prosecution put forth accident reconstruction evidence from the California Highway Patrol that said Anderson crossed over the double yellow lines in his white Acura MDX, causing a head-on collision between a 2002 Lexus RX300 driving southbound on J-59, and a northbound 2009 Toyota Camry that Anderson passed.
Anderson’s attorney failed to call the defense expert, John Tyson, to testify, and did not ask the court for a trial continuance to allow Tyson additional time to prepare a final report, the new trial motion said.
Hodge was the only witness called by the defense.
Anderson’s son, Erik Anderson, also stated that his father intended to testify in the case but was persuaded by Johnson not to because “the District Attorney would be able to cross examine him and make him look bad in front of the jury.”
Johnson also failed to seek a change of venue motion during a pretrial hearing and instead made the motion during jury selection, which was denied. The defense included statements from Dr. Bryan Edelman, a legal consultant specializing in jury-related issues, who said that “pretrial publicity” necessitated the need for a change of venue motion.
Edelman said Anderson was “exposed to prejudicial news coverage” that was “seared into the public’s consciousness” and may have affected the available jury pool.
“Although the nature of the coverage is not overtly inflammatory, the articles generated animosity among members of the community toward Danny Anderson and his wife as exhibited by comments on social media,” Edelman said in the document.
Examples of comments were included in the document without citation.
The document also included various jury instructions that were not read to the jury pool.
Nuttall said, “we’ve been advised by the court reporter that when she did the transcript she left some things out,” so some of the included arguments related to jury instructions may be moot, he said.