Two young Columbus men still facing evidence-tampering charges in the 2012 alcohol-related wreck that killed 16-year-old Northside High student Hannah Gilmer are set to go to trial Feb. 9.
Superior Court Judge William Rumer set that trial date Monday for Daniel Hughes Massengale and Austin Lott as Lott’s attorney Richard Hagler withdrew from the case with prosecutors claiming a conflict of interest.
Hagler is in the same law firm with Stacey Jackson, one of Massengales’ two attorneys. Prosecutors call that a conflict because Lott and Massengale could have competing interests that would place them in conflict, as would be the case if one chose to testify against the other in a plea agreement.
Having the same law firm represent two defendants in the same case is the same as having a single attorney try to represent two clients in the same case, said Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Cooley.
With Hagler’s withdrawal, Lott’s family now must find a new attorney. Rumer set a Jan. 16 “status conference” to deal with such changes before the trial.
Lott and Massengale are the last defendants facing charges in Gilmer’s death after her boyfriend Clayton Qualls pleaded guilty April 11 to first-degree homicide by vehicle. Rumer sentenced him to 15 years in prison with nine to serve.
Qualls had been drinking the night he wrecked Gilmer’s Scion while racing along Columbus’ County Line Road, where he lost control on a curve. Police said he, Lott and Massengale each were driving separate vehicles, and Qualls had tried to pass the other two.
Gilmer was ejected from the Scion during the crash. Prosecutors allege that as she lay dying on the roadside, the three boys busied themselves trying to hide the Keystone beer Qualls had.
Police said the accident was reported to 911 when other witnesses arrived on the scene. They estimated the call's delay ranged from 9 to 23 minutes after the June 15, 2012, wreck, depending on what time the boys said the crash occurred.
All involved were teenagers. Qualls and Massengale were 17 and Lott was 18, police said. If convicted of tampering with evidence, Lott and Massengale face one to three years in prison, Cooley said.
Robert Wadkins, who with Jackson represents Massengale, said he believes no evidence shows his client broke any law, and he and Jackson plan to take the case to trial.
Besides the criminal cases, a civil lawsuit has been filed against the businesses that sold Qualls the Keystone beer and a bottle of vodka.
On behalf of Hannah’s parents Lisa and George M. Gilmer, attorney Ben Land filed the suit in state court against Circle K Stores Inc. and PALVI Inc., doing business as Maple Party Shop.
The suit claimed Qualls used an altered driver’s license to buy a 30-pack of Keystone Light beer at a Circle K, and used the same ID to get a bottle of vodka at the Maple Party Shop, 8328 Veterans Parkway. Qualls then drank beer and shots of vodka between 7 and 11 p.m., said the suit, which sought unspecified damages.
Qualls had been cited for DUI just two weeks before the fatal crash.