After two hours of deliberation, a jury charged with determining the fate of 54 year old Melvin Dennis Hutcheson was told by Baldwin County Circuit Court Judge, Joseph Norton to break for the weekend. Hutcheson is on trial, charged in the hit and run death of a bicyclist in Gulf Shores on Mardi Gras Day two years ago. Prosecutors say he failed to stay and render assistance and tried to hide evidence.
Hutcheson took the stand in his own defense Friday, February 7. Hutcheson claimed he remembers hitting something the night of February 21, 2012, on County Road 4, but thought it was a dog or a deer. Baldwin County prosecutors say it was actually 53 year old Michael Hoeft of Gulf Shores. Hoeft was riding his recumbent bicycle while walking his two dogs along the highway just after dark when he was struck. Hoeft and one of his dogs died from their injuries.
Throughout the four and a half day trial, prosecutors produced over a 100 pieces of evidence…all circumstantial. One of those pieces of evidence led investigators to Hutcheson. It was part of a head lamp that had been broken out in the accident. Serial numbers on it provided a make, model and color of the suspect vehicle.
No prosecution witnesses put Hutcheson at the scene of the accident as emergency crews rendered assistance. Because of that, prosecutor Theresa Heinz says it shows proof of his failing to stop and provide assistance as required by law.
When Hutcheson took the witness stand, he said he wanted to testify to offer condolences to the Hoeft family if he had anything to do with his death. During his closing arguments, defense attorney, John Beck told jurors the whole case is about knowledge.
Hutcheson would have to have known he’d hit someone and not care in order to be guilty, Beck told the jury.
He went on to say that while bicycles share the same rights to the road as cars, it was unreasonable to expect to encounter a bike on a busy county road after dark with two dogs in tow. Furthermore, Beck put some level of blame back on Michael Hoeft for putting himself in unsafe circumstances on that night.
Heinz contends that not only did Hutcheson hit and kill Hoeft, he also drove his black Ford Explorer to Etowah County where he exchanged his vehicle for his daughter’s in an attempt to hide it from local authorities.
Jurors will continue deliberations at 9 a.ma Monday morning February 10. Hutcheson faces charges of criminal negligent homicide and leaving the scene of an accident with injury or death.