Drunk Driver Convicted of Murdering Angels Pitcher

Andrew Thomas Gallo, 23, was convicted on three counts of second-degree murder

A man accused of driving drunk and causing the crash that killed an Angels pitcher and two friends was convicted Monday of second-degree murder.

Andrew Thomas Gallo, 23, was convicted of three counts second-degree murder in the April 9, 2009, crash in Fullerton that killed Nick Adenhart, 22, his girlfriend Courtney Frances Stewart, 20, and his  friend Henry Pearson, 25.

Jon Wilhite, 24, of Manhattan Beach, survived, but had to have his skull reattached to his spine, and Gallo's stepbrother, Raymond Rivera, broke his nose and wrist in the crash.

Gallo also was convicted of two felony counts of driving under the influence causing great bodily injury and one felony count of hit-and-run. Jurors met for about 15 minutes Thursday and stopped about 4 p.m. Friday without reaching a verdict. Deliberations resumed early Monday and lasted for about 15 minutes.

On Monday, juror Beth Smith said the case caused some sleepless nights.

"I will not have another just one drink and drive. It changed me, really changed me," Smith said.

The Associated Press reported that Gallo held rosary beads and occasionally looked at jurors as the verdicts were read. He was led away in handcuffs and looked over his shoulder at the victims' relatives, the AP reported.

"I hope this is a step in the right direction, that people out there think before they drink," said Wilhite's father, Tony, after the verdict was read.

Gallo faces 55 years to life in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 10.

Authorities said Gallo was drinking at a Covina bar at about the same time Adenhart was pitching six scoreless innings about 25 miles south in Anaheim. Adenhart's three friends were at the game.

After the game, Adenhart and his friends were driving to a nightclub in Fullerton. They were struck by a Toyota Sienna minivan at the intersection of Lemon Street and Orangethorpe Boulevard.

Investigators said Gallo was driving against a red light and nearly twice the posted speed limit -- 35 mph. Tests indicated Gallo's blood-alcohol level was .22 -- nearly three times the legal limit in California.

He later told police he "blanked out."

About an hour after the crash, he was arrested after police found him running on the 91 Freeway.

Adenhart made his big league debut in 2008. He worked his way into the Angels starting rotation in 2009. At 22, he was considered one fo the team's best prospects.

Stewart was driving the Mitsubishi that carried Adenhart, Pearson and Wilhite at the time of the crash. She was a former cheerleader at Cal State Fullerton. She was entering her senior year as a broadcast journalism student.

Pearson graduated from Arizona State University after he graduated from Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach. He met Adenhart during a pickup basketball game at ASU, then started his own professional sports management company.

He played baseball at Mira Costa, where his No. 12 jersey was retired.

"Obviously there are no winners in this situation," said Pearson's  father, Nigel. "But what this case has shown is the accelerator on a motor vehicle in  the wrong hands is as dangerous as the trigger on a gun. People  need to understand that."

Wilhite continues to recover from his injuries. He played sports with Pearson in Manhattan Beach and went on to play baseball for Cal State Fullerton.

While the jury deliberated Friday, Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard Toohey found Gallo guilty of misdemeanor driving on a suspended license. Toohey made the ruling outside the jury's presence.

The misdemeanor was separated from the more serious charges, and Toohey issued his ruling based on trial evidence, said Deputy District Attorney Susan Price.

Prosecutors wanted Gallo convicted of murder because he allegedly engaged in behavior he knew could lead to their deaths. Deputy District Attorney Susan  Price said Gallo had a DUI conviction in 2005 in San Bernardino  County. She noted that when Gallo pleaded guilty, he was specifically warned he  could be charged with murder if he got in a deadly drunken driving collision.

"He has the equivalence of a PhD in DUI education from personal  experience, not in a classroom," Price said, referring to how both of Gallo's  brothers were involved in DUI incidents.

Jurors said they spent much of their deliberations debating the legal  terms for murder. Prosecutors charged Gallo with second-degree murder under the  theory of "implied malice," meaning he acted in such a way that he knew his  actions could result in a fatality. Prosecutors noted that Gallo had a DUI  conviction from 2006, when he was warned that if he caused a deadly drunken- driving collision it could lead to murder charges.

Juror Dennis Rooney said he had to decide if Gallo showed a "conscious disregard" for life. But Rooney said he was convinced when reminded that Gallo told  detectives he usually avoided drinking shots of liquor because it made him  black out.

"He knows the condition he gets in and he did the shots anyway,"  Rooney said.

But he said reaching the verdict was still a tough process.

Some jurors said the trial caused them sleepless nights. One juror, who  did not want to give his name, said he was convinced Gallo was guilty of murder  when he saw a video of Gallo and his step-brother drinking for hours in a  bikini bar before the crash -- at one point high-fiving each other.

Gallo's attorney, Jacqueline Goodman, argued that Gallo should not be convicted of murder because he did not intend to kill anyone.

Goodman tried to convince jurors that Gallo's actions did not show  implied malice because he didn't think he would have to drive that night.    She also tried to create doubt about whether Gallo was behind the wheel  when his stepmother's Toyota Sienna minivan collided with the Mitsubishi  Eclipse carrying Adenhart and his friends.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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