One of the country's most bizarre criminal cases took another twisted turn on Friday when a Florida judge threw out John Goodman's DUI manslaughter conviction for the death of Scott Wilson.
Investigators determined that Goodman's blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit when he ran a stop sign in the tony equestrian community of Wellington in his Bentley convertible and slammed into Wilson's Hyundai. Goodman fled the scene of the crime leaving the recent University of Central Florida graduate to drown in a drainage canal.
However, late Friday afternoon Judge Jeffrey Colbath ruled that juror Dennis DeMartin's questionable conduct -- which ranged from deliberately concealing his ex-wife's own DUI arrest to conducting an unauthorized drinking experiment at home prior to jury deliberations -- led him to conclude that Goodman did not receive a fair trial.
"The cumulative effects of DeMartin's antics transformed an imperfect but fair trial into a constitutionally impermissible proceeding," wrote Colbath.
Colbath also wrote that "Every person charged with a crime deserves a fair trial without the likes of Dennis DeMartin. To allow this conviction to stand... would erode the integrity of the judicial system."
The 2012 trial of the Texas multi-millionaire was the subject of international coverage, thanks in part to an outrageous legal scheme when the 49-year-old founder of the International Polo Club Palm Beach attempted to adopt his 42-year-old girlfriend in order to gain access to a $300 million trust established for his two natural-born children. Overnight the legal charade became a sleazy punch line. At Slate, the headline asked, "A Florida Millionaire Adopted His 42-Year-Old Girlfriend. Isn't That Incest?" The legal website Lexology took a more philosophical attitude when it noted that "Girlfriends Come and Go, but Daughters Are Forever." The trial judge in the wrongful death suit brought against Goodman by Scott Wilson's parents said the adoption took the court "into a legal twilight zone." (The Wilsons received a $46 million civil settlement from Goodman and one of the clubs he had been drinking at the night Wilson was killed.)
As Goodman's daughter, Heather Hutchins, have received an estimated $16.75 million in payouts from the trust. But Goodman's ex-wife would have none of it. She filed a lawsuit to void the adoption and an appeals court saw through the sham, calling the adoption a "fraud" and labeling Hutchins Goodman's "paramour."
Goodman's multi-million-dollar criminal defense team was captained by one of the country's best-known trial attorneys, Roy Black. The Miami-based legal legend is best known for his successful defense of William Kennedy Smith on rape charges in 1991. Since then his client list reads look a Who's Who in South Florida, including Rush Limbaugh, Kelsey Grammer, and Enrique Iglesias.
Following his client's successful appeal, Black issued a statement that said, "A juror who deceives to get on a jury in a high profile case for his own profit is a trial lawyer's worst nightmare. Fortunately, this time the deception was exposed, and courageous judge set aside the verdict."
An attorney for Scott Wilson's father released a statement that said, "Mr. Wilson is disappointed that conviction and sentence for the man who took Scott away from him, his family, and his friends has been vacated due to the issues surrounding the individual juror. But he is more committed than ever to the State of Florida's pursuit of justice and prosecution of the person responsible for Scott's preventable and premature death."
What's next in the craziest case to come out of Palm Beach since Bush v. Gore? A status hearing for John Goodman's new trial has been set for June.
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