NORMAN — Patricia McDoulett hopes she can move on now. More than a year after the death of her daughter, she may finally be able to do that.
A Cleveland County District Court jury on Thursday found Mark Allen Peters, 54, guilty of first-degree manslaughter in the death of Safari McDoulett, 36. The trial lasted two weeks and Patricia was there every day, sitting on the front row waiting for her daughter to get justice.
“It’s been a nightmare,” McDoulett said. “An absolute nightmare. I’ve tried to be real strong and brave for our huge family. It’s not an easy thing to do. But it’s been one of the most difficult things I ever did besides losing Safari.”
The jury deliberated for about two hours before finding Peters guilty in the State Highway 9 traffic death on Feb. 20, 2012. It took them another three hours to sentence him to 38 years in prison on the manslaughter charge. He also was found guilty of possession of a controlled, dangerous substance and obstructing an officer.
“It was somewhat unexpected,” Peters’ attorney, Charles E. Douglas said. “We had spent two weeks in trial, the state had over 100 exhibits and 20-plus witnesses. I was surprised they didn’t spend a little more time. But I am not being critical of them. I learned long ago not to criticize jury verdicts. They got to hear all the evidence and it was a tough case.”
The defense rested without calling any witnesses. In his closing arguments, Douglas attempted to convince the jury that reasonable doubt surrounded whether Peters was under the influence on the day of the fatal wreck. Peters was found with a prescription pill bottle containing hydrocodone and Diazepam 5mg.
“Being a juror isn’t supposed to be easy or make you popular,” Douglas said during his closing arguments. “My client can’t get a fair trial if you let sympathy, sentiment or prejudice enter into the deliberations. The system doesn’t work. This case is about reasonable doubt.”
Douglas also took aim at several of the 23 witnesses the state called. He told the jury they changed aspects of their testimonies from their initial statements. That included Jerry Miller, who testified he had an encounter with him while driving home from work that day.
“Everybody wants to add something,” Douglas said. “Everyone wants to have their 15 minutes of fame. Everybody wants to contribute to what they think is a good cause, which is to convict my client.”
Assistant District Attorney Lori Puckett accused Douglas of calling the witnesses liars and said his assertion was ludicrous. She said everything that took place is a direct result of Peters’ decision to use drugs.
“A reasonable person knows what drugs they take and how much,” Puckett told the jury on rebuttal. “Drugs don’t magically appear in your body. Drugs get in your body when we do something to put them there.”
Puckett also took time to defend Safari, who was not wearing her seat belt and may have been using her cell phone at the time of the collision. Douglas told the jury those actions could have contributed to her death.
“You are here to determine what Mark Allen Peters did,” Puckett said. “It’s not your job to determine if Safari McDoulett did anything wrong. It’s not the State vs. Safari McDoulett. This accident wasn’t caused by Safari. It was caused by that man. To say she would have survived if she had been buckled up is offensive.”
When District Judge Tracy Schumacher read the guilty verdicts, Peters stared at the 12-person jury. His two family members, the only people sitting on the left side of the court room, quietly began to weep. However, the more than 50 family, friends and coworkers of Safari who filled the right side of the room also remained silent.
“I felt so sorry for Mr. Peters,” Patricia McDoulett said. “I realize he had made some poor choices that put his life in danger and everyone else’s life in danger. Him having to go back to prison is going to put his life in danger. I felt sorry for the man, to be perfectly honest. I hated that for him.”
Schumacher went directly into the punishment stage of the trial, when the jurors were informed Peters had already had three previous felony convictions related to drugs on his record. Because of that, they had three options to choose from, including 20 years to life, 10 years to life or four years to life.
Douglas asked for the jury to have mercy. Puckett asked for a life sentence.
“It’s not a crime or a defendant that deserves a minimal sentence,” Puckett said.
But Douglas said he will appeal the ruling on the grounds that the jury was only given the option of first-degree manslaughter. If that fails, Peters will have to serve 85 percent of the 38 years before he is eligible for parole.
Regardless, Patricia McDoulett is going to try and move on with her life. She knows nothing will bring her daughter back, but it’s the memories she said she will have to deal with for the rest of her life.
“I am going to start by trying to unpack some of her boxes that I still have in my living room,” Patricia said as tears rolled down her face. “I can’t pick up anything that is hers and just hold it close to my heart. I cry like a baby every single day. Just try to do the best you can and maybe after all this I can get to where I can open a box and not bawl like a baby.”