Jury convicts skier of negligent homicide
November 19, 2000
EAGLE, Colo. (AP) One of the last holdouts in the jury that convicted a former ski racer of negligent homicide in the death of a Denver man in a collision at Vail said she made up her mind only after determining the suspect was an expert skier.
Michele Hovey told The Denver Post that the jury in the trial of Nathan Hall was tied up for 17 hours trying to determine whether Hall was guilty of a crime. He originally had been charged with reckless manslaughter, a more serious charge.
It was the first time a Colorado jury had convicted a skier of homicide.
”I found myself dancing on the head of a pin, and I was panicked about what I was going to do,” said Hovey, a 49-year-old interior designer. ”We were fully aware of the job we were being asked to do and why.”
Witnesses said Hall, 21, a lift operator at the time, was skiing very fast in poor conditions when he collided with Alan Cobb on April 20, 1997. Cobb died minutes later of head injuries.
Two judges dismissed charges against Hall on grounds that no reasonable person could have expected that excessively fast skiing would lead to another person’s death. The Colorado Supreme Court reinstated a charge of reckless manslaughter in September, and Hall’s trial began last week.
Hovey said she agreed with the judges’ decisions to dismiss the case.
”I agree that we need a precedent case to know how we’re going to deal with these things, but this was not the case,” she said.
Hovey said she and another juror whom she would not identify were not convinced of Hall’s guilt until the final hour.
She said her chief concern was determining whether Hall’s actions constituted a ”gross deviation from the standard of care a reasonable person would exercise,” something she said varies from skier to skier.
She said a less-experienced skier could have been out of control and struck Cobb and still have been skiing within reason.
”We all had to agree that going fast is not a gross deviation, especially going fast if you’re good, and being out of control is not a gross deviation,” Hovey said. ”For me, it became inescapable that the gross deviation was that a beginner skier who was where he needed to be should not be killed by being hit from behind by a better skier, particularly one who is employed on the mountain and therefore has a mandate in our community, more than anybody else, to protect the people on the mountain.”
She said she deduced that Hall was an expert skier because of testimony indicating that, though he was out of control, he still was almost able to miss Cobb and another skier he clipped.
Hall did not testify, but jurors were played an audio tape recorded without his knowledge shortly after the collision in which he described himself as an expert skier who always had been able to stay in control. ”It was just this one time,” he said.
Hall is free on bond and could be sentenced to up to six years in prison when he is sentenced Jan. 4.