Real estate agent doesn’t want jurors to see video of fatal downtown Aspen accident
Defense attorney says video is “irrelevant to the issues in the case”
An Aspen real estate broker who struck and killed a 5-year-old girl in downtown Aspen with her SUV more than a year ago wants video of the incident to be kept from jurors in her upcoming trial, according to court documents.
A lawyer for Heidi Houston, 68, said in a recently filed motion that the video evidence is irrelevant and disturbing.
“The small number of people who have had to view this video in connection with this case have all suffered significant trauma as a result,” according to the motion filed by lawyer Abraham Hutt of Denver. “What is of consequence to the jury’s determination is whether or not Ms. Houston could or should have seen the child and the video simply does not shed light on that question.”
Ben Sollars, deputy district attorney, however, begged to differ in a response filed last week.
“The video depicts the defendant operating her motor vehicle in Pitkin County, Colorado on the date charged,” according to Sollars’ motion. “The video also reveals the way the defendant was operating her motor vehicle, begging the question of how she did not see the victim crossing the street.”
Houston, a longtime Aspen real estate broker, was driving a 2018 GMC Acadia SUV when she struck and killed Hannah Heusgen of New York City on March 15, 2020. Heusgen was crossing Galena Street with her family diagonally from the Hyman Avenue pedestrian mall to the northeast corner, where the Ute Mountaineer outdoor store is located, when she was hit.
Houston has been charged with careless driving resulting in death, a misdemeanor, and is scheduled to be tried by a jury in Pitkin County Court the first week of June. She has pleaded not guilty to the charge. She was not intoxicated or talking on her phone at the time of the accident, prosecutors and police have said.
In his motion filed last month, Hutt said Houston does not dispute that she was driving when she hit Heusgen or that the child died. Further, playing the video in court would “unfairly” and “unnecessarily prejudice the jury against Ms. Houston,” the motion states.
“While the video has been used by experts on both sides of the case to try and make measurements to assist in understanding why Ms. Houston never saw the child, the video itself does not and cannot answer that question,” according to Hutt’s motion. “It was taken from a block away and does not show what Ms. Houston saw, nor can it show what she or anyone else in her position could or should have seen.
“Consequently, in addition to being overwhelmingly shocking simply by showing the impact and death, it is irrelevant to the issues in the case.”
To prosecutors, however, the video offers an objective view of the pedestrian and vehicle traffic on the street at the time without being filtered through witness testimony, according to the DA’s response. It also shows the type of clothing worn by the victim, whether she was walking in a crosswalk, how close she was to the rest of her family and whether Houston “was paying attention to safety risks,” the response states.
“In conclusion, the best evidence in this case is contained in a video which captured the offense taking place,” according to the DA’s response. “Precluding the jury from viewing this video would only add to the risk of juror confusion and misconception, increasing the risk of an unjust verdict.”
Pitkin County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely will decide whether to exclude the video evidence at a hearing May 18. The trial is scheduled to begin June 3.
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