After a four-day trial, the six-member jury quickly found Kerry
Kennedy not guilty of driving while impaired by drugs. On July 13,
2012, she took the sleeping pill zolpidem, known by the brand name
Ambien, rather than her usual thyroid medication before getting
behind the wheel of her silver Lexus.
"I'm incredibly grateful to the jury for working so hard on this
case, and to my lawyers, and to my family and friends and so many
other people who supported me," Kennedy, 54, told reporters after
the verdict was read at Westchester County Court in White Plains,
Nobody was injured in the 2012 accident, during which Kennedy drove
for more than five miles (eight km) at high speed, swerving into
other lanes and the medians on both sides of the highway before
striking the truck, then leaving the scene of the accident.
Police found her passed out over the steering wheel and one officer
suspected she might have suffered a seizure.
It was unusual to hold a full jury trial for the unclassified
misdemeanor charge, and Kennedy's attorney suggested she was
prosecuted in part because of her wealth and status as a member of
one of the United States' most storied political families.
Kennedy is the ex-wife of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and niece
of assassinated U.S. President John F. Kennedy and the late Senator
Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.
"It was so obvious this was an accident," defense attorney Gerald
Lefcourt said of the charge after the verdict. He said he had
wondered why the prosecution went ahead, adding, "Was it because of
who the defendant was?"
Prosecutors had conceded during the four-day trial that Kennedy had
not intended to take the sleeping pill, but maintained that she must
have become aware of having done so at some point during her drive
and that failing to get off the road was a criminal mistake.
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The district attorney denied that Kennedy had been singled out for
"We prosecute 2,500 impaired driving cases annually in Westchester
County. This case was treated no differently from any of the
others," said Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the Westchester County
District Attorney. "The jury heard all the evidence in this case,
and we respect their verdict."
A toxicology expert testified during the trial that the sleeping
pill takes effect so quickly that Kennedy could have been sleep
driving and unaware of her actions.
Kennedy testified that she had no clear memory of the incident and
that, if she had realized her mistake, she would not have continued
Diane Neal, a family friend and actress on the television show "Law
& Order," was in court for much of week and called the not guilty
verdict "the best news ever."
(Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Gunna
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