Kerry Kennedy acquitted of drugged driving in NY - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

Kerry Kennedy acquitted of drugged driving in NY

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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) -- Kerry Kennedy has been acquitted of drugged driving after she accidentally took a sleeping pill and then took a wild spin down a New York highway.

Jurors delivered their verdict Friday in Kennedy's misdemeanor trial in suburban White Plains.

The human-rights advocate is the ex-wife of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a daughter of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and a niece of President John F. Kennedy.

Her car hit a tractor-trailer in 2012. She was found slumped at the steering wheel.

Kennedy said she took the sleeping pill by mistake instead of her thyroid medication. She testified that the drug overpowered her and she doesn't remember the crash.

The prosecution said even if the pill were taken accidentally, Kennedy should have pulled over when she felt its effects.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Both sides in Kerry Kennedy's drugged-driving trial agree she didn't mean to take a sleeping pill before she set out for the gym, veered into a truck and ended up slumped and disoriented at the wheel. But jurors now must decide whether she realized she was impaired and pulled over.

Deliberations resumed Friday in Kennedy's trial, where questions about the effects of the sleeping drug zolpidem are at the forefront. The six-person jury asked for a brief readback of expert testimony during roughly 45 minutes of deliberations Thursday in a court in suburban White Plains.

Kennedy, a daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and the ex-wife of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was arrested in 2012 on a misdemeanor charge of driving while impaired. She had driven her Lexus wildly on a highway, sideswiping a tractor-trailer, blowing one of her tires and yet continuing to the next exit, witnesses testified.

Blood tests showed a small amount of zolpidem, sometimes sold under the brand name Ambien. Kennedy, 54, said she'd accidentally taken it instead of her daily thyroid pill, and she testified that she had no idea how it was affecting her as she drove. She said she had no memory of even being on the highway.

Prosecutor Doreen Lloyd disputed Kennedy's account, suggesting in a closing argument Thursday that the human rights advocate ignored the onset of symptoms because "she had a schedule to meet."

And while Kennedy took the pill by mistake, "she is responsible for the chain of events that happened after that," Lloyd said. She insisted zolpidem works gradually, saying Kennedy's testimony "belies the science of this drug."

Mocking the title of one of Kennedy's own books, Lloyd urged the jury to "speak truth to power."

But defense attorney Gerald Lefcourt said there was no evidence - and it made no sense to believe - that Kennedy was aware, while driving, that she'd taken the pill.

"Accidents are not crimes," Lefcourt said.

With Kennedy's mother, Ethel, and other relatives in the front row, Lefcourt said Kennedy was "not seeking advantage because of her family."

The trial is "not a TV call-in program," he said. "This is an American court."

Earlier Thursday, Lefcourt brought up a 2013 New England Journal of Medicine article saying that people who take zolpidem "frequently do not recognize their impaired state."

It would be even more difficult for someone who didn't know he or she had taken the drug to understand what was going on, clinical pharmacologist Dr. David Benjamin told jurors. He said he was involved in testing zolpidem as the manufacturer sought Food and Drug Administration approval in the 1990s.

Lloyd countered that the article concerned impairment the morning after a night's sleep, not impairment before sleeping.

Kennedy could face up to a year in jail if convicted, although that would be unlikely for a first-time offender.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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