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Monday, November 15, 2010
Jim Leyritz's trial defense begins

Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Former big-league baseball player Jim Leyritz was not drunk prior to a 2007 crash that killed a 30-year-old woman despite blood tests showing otherwise, his attorney said Monday, adding that Leyritz had a yellow light rather than a red one seconds before the collision.

As the defense case opened, Leyritz lawyer David Bogenschutz said a toxicology expert will testify that blood tests given three hours after the crash were unreliable and did not take into account the effect a concussion may have had on Leyritz's ability to process alcohol.

Video and phone records will establish a timeline showing that victim Fredia Ann Veitch was speeding, may have had her lights off and ran the red light, he said.

"By the end of this case, you will have no doubt that there is at least reasonable doubt," Bogenschutz told jurors in an opening statement he chose to deliver in the middle of the trial rather than its start.

Leyritz, best known for a dramatic 1996 World Series home run with the New York Yankees, faces between four and 15 years in prison if convicted of DUI manslaughter in the Dec. 28, 2007 crash.

The prosecution rested last week, and jurors are likely to begin deliberations later this week. It is unlikely that Leyritz himself will take the witness stand.

Prosecution witnesses estimated that Leyritz's blood-alcohol level was as high as 0.19 percent when the crash occurred, more than twice Florida's 0.08 percent limit. Veitch was also drunk, with a blood-alcohol level of 0.18 shortly after the crash.

A key element of Florida DUI manslaughter law is whether a person who was drunk caused or contributed to the death of someone else. Evidence indicating that Veitch may have been at least somewhat at fault for the crash could work in Leyritz's favor.

The first defense witness, Dr. Mazyar Rouhani, said he prescribed medication for a concussion for Leyritz a day and a half after the crash. This is key, Bogenschutz said, because a concussion affects how fast a person's stomach empties, which could have skewed Leyritz's later blood test results.

Leyritz told the doctor his head struck the windshield of his Ford Expedition, although the vehicle bore no cracks or other signs of that.

The defense's crash expert, meanwhile, will estimate that Veitch's vehicle was traveling between 38 mph and 52 mph in a 30 mph zone when she got into the intersection. Leyritz was doing the speed limit and had two seconds of yellow remaining at the moment of impact, Bogenschutz told jurors.

Earlier prosecution witnesses testified that Veitch was probably not speeding and had her lights on. Two crash witnesses said they thought she had the green light, but their accounts grew less definitive under cross-examination.

Leyritz previously settled a wrongful death lawsuit by agreeing to pay Veitch's family $250,000 in insurance and $1,000 in monthly payments for 100 months.

Mainly a catcher in an 11-season big league career, Leyritz played for the Yankees, Angels, Rangers, Red Sox, Padres and Dodgers. His last season was 2000.