November 6, 2015 / 5:30 PM / 2 years ago

Texas jury begins deliberations of man charged with murdering four at SXSW

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The man charged with murdering four people by plowing his car into a South by Southwest festival crowd last year heard the thuds of bodies hitting metal and kept on speeding down Austin streets, prosecutors said in closing statements on Friday.

A jury in the Texas capital began deliberations in the case of Rashad Owens, 23, who is facing murder charges that could put him in prison for the rest of his life. His lawyers said he never intended to kill anyone and made a terrible mistake after he panicked when being pursued by police.

Owens, driving while intoxicated, evaded a police check point on March 13, 2014, and drove at high speed for several city blocks, mowing down nearly 30 people, many lined up outside a nightclub, until his car crashed. He then fled the vehicle and tried to escape before being caught by police, officers testified at the trial.

Prosecutor Marc Chavez said the minute Owens heard the thuds of his initial six victims, he should have stopped or slowed down. Instead he went on at about 55 miles per hour (90 kph) to hit about 20 more people.

“You don’t floor it. How in the world do you go 99 percent throttle after that?” he said.

Owens is facing capital murder charges, which can bring life in prison without the possibility of parole, for intentionally killing the four. He is also facing felony murder, which can bring life in prison, for killing the four while trying to evade police.

His lawyers did not dispute the felony murder charges but argued he was not guilty of capital murder, saying it was not his intent to kill anyone and he had too little time to react to the people in front of him.

“To be intent on causing somebody’s death, you have to know that they are there,” defense attorney Rickey Jones said in a closing statement.

Owens did not testify but prosecutors played police video from the scene where Owens is heard saying “I should have just stopped,” and “Did I kill anybody? I promise I didn’t mean to kill anybody if I did.”

Jamie West, 27, of Austin, and Steven Craenmehr, 35, of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, died at the scene. Sandy Thuy Le, 26, died about a week later from injuries suffered in the accident and 18-year-old DeAndre Tatum, of Fort Worth, died shortly after that.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Lisa Lambert

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