CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jurors found a man guilty of second-degree murder after he was accused of hitting and killing
a Charlotte woman while authorities said he was driving drunk in January 2016.
The defendant, Gregory Wheeling Jr., was accused of hitting Kelli Putnam on South Boulevard. Putnam was a beloved server at Mac's Speed Shop.
There were tears on both sides of the courtroom after the verdict was read. Wheeling sat in his chair looking stunned.
"I was quite confident and most of us in our party, family were confident," Putnam’s mother, Amy Johnson, said.
The decision was a relief for her.
"I hope you think of that when you are sitting there," Johnson told Wheeling in court.
Wheeling apologized to the family.
"It hurts,” Wheeling said. “It still hurts. I wish I could take it back."
Judge Yvonne Mims Evans sentenced him to between 13 and 16 1/2 years.
As Wheeling was led away, his family shouted "love you."
Emotions were still raw on both sides.
"I just want to say that Greg Wheeling showed zero remorse today, and he got what he deserved, justice has been served," Putman’s fiancé, Bronsyn Stewart, said.
Jurors heard closing arguments on Monday before deliberating.
Wheeling told the judge that he did not wish to testify.
Jurors were sent home for the weekend and were told by the judge that they can consider a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter against Wheeling.
Prosecutor Desmond McCallum and defense attorney George Laughrun told different stories in their closing arguments.
Laughrun said that Putnam was so drunk that she darted out into traffic and that no driver would have had time to react.
"Pedestrians have a duty as well,” Laughrun said. “They have a duty not to dart, or run into the roadway."
Laughrun said that Putnam's blood alcohol content was 0.20, but he was sympathetic to her family.
"Could you imagine getting that knock, ‘Ma'am I need to tell you about your daughter.’ Could you imagine getting that knock on the door, of course not, it's horrific, horrific, but it's not our fault," Laughrun said.
McCallum closed by saying the physical evidence doesn't match up with Putnam darting into the street. He said she was already standing there when struck.
"The physical damage is all to the driver's side,” McCallum said. “If she had just darted out, you heard and everyone agrees on this, these lanes are 12 feet wide. If she had just darted out, why is there no damage on the passenger's side?"
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Laughrun called several witnesses to the stand Thursday.
One witness, Matthew Morgan, worked in a mattress store close to the crash on South Boulevard and called 911.
The defense used Morgan, who said Putnam darted out into road, but on cross-examination, he backed off the claim that he saw her running.
"This girl tried to run across the street and got hit by a car going 50,” Morgan said.
Laughrun asked the question again.
“When you called 911, you mentioned you had seen her running in the roadway?” Laughrun asked.
“Yes,” Morgan said.
Wheeling was legally drunk at the time of the accident, with a blood alcohol content at 0.13, according to police records.
Amy Randolph, a nurse at the emergency room who talked to Wheeling following the crash, told jurors he did not seem to be impaired.
(George Wheeling Jr.)
The defense intended to argue that the fatal crash was Putnam's fault because she allegedly ran into the road.
Tyler Black, an accident reconstruction expert hired by the defense, said that Wheeling's black Audi was decelerating at the time of the incident from 61 to 56 to 51 miles per hour.
"Based on the timing that we have here, there was not enough time for a driver to react, so the only way to avoid the collision would be if Miss Putnam had not stepped into the roadway,” Black said.
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