Bryant Wilkerson Faces Prison for a Fatal Accident. But if a Drunk Driver Hits You, Is It Your Fault?

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But it turns out that he was right to be a little paranoid. Despite an appalling amount of evidence to the contrary, the county attorney insists that Wilkerson's at fault not just for leaving the accident, but for causing it.

The reasons for that became sadly clear in court on Thursday, when a sergeant in the Sheriff's Office took the stand. This was the guy who'd done the initial field sobriety tests on Wilkerson after the fatal accident.

But when it came time to identify Wilkerson in court, the sergeant got a little flustered. Wilkerson was sitting between his two public defenders, Michelle Carson and Chuck Whitehead. Unfortunately for the sergeant, Whitehead is also black. I could see the sergeant squint and do a double take as he tried to remember which one was the "bad guy" and which one was his lawyer.

"He looks a lot different than my first contact with him," the sergeant said, explaining his confusion.

In that instant, I remembered Wilkerson's mug shot, taken just after the accident. In it, he looks nothing like the quiet family man I've gotten to know. His hair is longer and crazier. He's wearing a T-shirt. He looks like a 20-something stoner, a guy that any cop would assume is up to no good.

The defense objected when the County Attorney's Office entered the mug shot into evidence. But Judge Sanders allowed it in, and I think she was right to do so. In that photo, you can see Bryant Wilkerson as the sheriff's deputies saw him. And you can see all too clearly just how he got screwed.

I don't know if the jury is going to see through the criminal justice system's appalling rush to judgment. This is a complicated case, and any time you have a guy fleeing the scene of a fatal accident, it's hard not to judge him for it.

But should he rot in jail for years on end because he reacted stupidly when a teenage drunk hit him? Not when the teen got off with one day in jail.

Our county attorney has botched this case beyond recognition. The question now pending in court is whether the jury will get that.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske