A Tuolumne County Superior Court judge ruled on Tuesday that Diane Anderson, a Sonora nurse accused of being an accessory after the fact to vehicular manslaughter, would be unable to get a fair trial locally and approved a motion by her attorneys for the trial to be held elsewhere.
Judge Kevin Seibert said a change of venue was granted because of widespread local knowledge about the conviction of her husband, Dr. Danny Anderson. A Tuolumne County jury found Danny Anderson guilty in July 2018 on three felony counts of vehicular manslaughter. The jury found he had caused a collision on J-59 in La Grange that killed three people and injured three others in October 2016.
Mark Coleman, a Fresno-based attorney representing Diane Anderson, spent most of the time at the three-hour hearing on Tuesday arguing that there was a reasonable likelihood she wouldn’t receive a fair trial due to media coverage of the case — particularly in The Union Democrat.
Seibert said he was more concerned about potential jurors knowing that Danny Anderson was already convicted of felony triple vehicular manslaughter, because prosecutors would have the burden to prove that again at Diane Anderson’s trial for her to be convicted of being an accessory.
“Knowledge of that fact has permeated this county,” he said.
A survey conducted by the defense’s expert witness, Bryan Edelman, found that 73.4 percent of people who were polled and knew about the case were aware of Danny Anderson’s conviction.
Edelman also analyzed 61 articles about the Anderson case over the past four years — mostly from The Union Democrat. He believed some of them contained prejudicial information, inadmissible content, and inflammatory language.
Many of the examples that Edelman cited were from articles quoting testimony given by witnesses and victims during Danny Anderson’s preliminary hearing and trial.
During cross examination, Edelman acknowledged to Deputy District Attorney Samantha Arnerich that examples of “inflammatory language” were quotes from testimony given in open court and not statements made by the newspaper itself.
Arnerich argued that the media’s reporting about the case was “largely factual” in her closing arguments.
“The media does not use derogatory terms in this case,” she said. “I think that’s important.”
Edelman said he’s served as an expert witness for requests to change the location of trials in at least 40 cases, including that of Jared Loughner, who killed six people in 2011 while attempting to assassinate former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona.
Edelman, who holds a doctorate’s degree in social psychology from the University of Nevada, Reno, also testified that he’s typically paid between $150 an hour and $225 an hour as a trial consultant and has received about $14,000 for his work on the Anderson case.
Coleman noted in his closing arguments how Edelman’s survey of about 300 respondents found that 83 percent of the people were aware of the case, and 49 percent of those people said it would be difficult or impossible for them to be convinced of Diane Anderson’s innocence.
Some people in the courtroom sitting next to victim-witness advocates for the District Attorney’s Office scoffed when Coleman argued that Diane Anderson could face life in prison if convicted on the felony charge of accessory after the fact to vehicular manslaughter, in addition to misdemeanor charges she faces on suspicion of concealing or destroying evidence.
Danny Anderson was sentenced to five years and four months on the three counts of vehicular manslaughter, in addition to hit-and-run and obstructing an investigation.
Coleman also argued that some of what the media reported was “sensational” even if it was factual.
“Whether it’s factual rendition relayed in the newspaper of witness testimony about a mother and her daughter lying in the street gurgling blood, those are sensational facts,” he said.
Authorities say Diane Anderson was in the passenger seat of a white Acura MDX when her husband crossed over the double yellow lines on northbound J-59 in La Grange and caused a head-on collision between a southbound 2002 Lexus RX300 and a northbound 2009 Toyota Camry.
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.
Seibert said the next steps for Diane Anderson’s trial will be to get recommendations on alternate locations from the administrative director for courts, though he doesn’t know how long that will take.
A review hearing was scheduled for 1:30 p.m., July 22, in Department 4. Seibert said they would take it “week by week” if they haven’t received recommendations on alternate locations by that date.
Diane Anderson’s trial date remains scheduled for Aug. 14, though Seibert acknowledged the date could become problematic.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.