Opening statements delayed in fatal crash trial against accused drunken driver

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - A 4-year-old deadly drunken driving case in Orange County has been delayed again, much to the disappointment of the victims' families.

On July 24, 2008, the SUV Adam Nocheherly was driving on S.R. 408 crashed into an Acura driven by 20-year-old Julia Werner, a young mother who had just gotten off work. Werner and her passenger, 19-year-old Charlotte Lemaster, were killed.

Opening statements in the trial were supposed to begin Tuesday afternoon but before a jury could be picked, the trial came to a halt.

"What is the reason for the continuance? Some things have come up that were unknown before," said defense attorney Michael Snure.

The delay involves Shawn Johnson, a key witness for the state.

Johnson is an analyst for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement who conducted DNA tests on blood stains found on the airbag of Nocheherly's car.

Johnson was suspended from lab work last year for failing to catch mislabeled DNA evidence in a 2004 rape case. That evidence was later used against the wrong person during trial.

A last-minute state motion filed Tuesday aims to block defense attorneys from bringing up that incident during the trial.

But defense attorneys said they didn't even know about Johnson's suspension and the judge granted them time to investigate.

"We're prohibited from commenting on the facts," said Snure. "So just to say it was a late disclosure, and the case has been continued."

Linda Lemaster, the mother of one of the victims, drove down from the Florida panhandle for the trial. She sent WFTV an email expressing her disappointment at the delay.

"We are very disappointed it has been postponed again, and at the last minute to where Adam can spend another holiday season with his family, but yet my granddaughter has to spend another Christmas without her mother. And my family not being able to be with my daughter," her email read.

Before jury selection started on Monday, prosecutors told the judge that grisly photos from the crash scene must be shown to jurors, despite defense objections.

"Your Honor, it's speed, speed, speed," prosecutor Frank George told the judge.

Defense attorneys said some of the state evidence, especially photos of the two young women dead on the road, would inflame the jury against their client.

Prosecutors said Nocheherly was drunk and speeding when the crash happened.

But defense attorneys have questioned the reliability of a blood-alcohol test that put him just over the legal limit, and said prosecutors are overstating his speed.

"If we're saying, 'Look at these photographs, they're gruesome and they're terrible. It must be his fault because he was going so fast.' There's no one that's going to be saying that," said defense attorney Lisabeth Fryer.

Defense attorneys also asked the judge to block prosecutors from telling jurors that Nocheherly left the country and was in Lebanon when a warrant for his arrest was issued nine months after the crash.

Investigators said they believe it shows he knew he was guilty.

The defense said he was just visiting family and didn't know he was a wanted man.

Judge Margaret Schreiber sided with the defense, saying prosecutors could not bring up Nocheherly leaving the country during trial.

But she said prosecutors could use scene photos, as long as they don't use too many.