Man serving 10 years for wreck that killed Tyler woman appealing court’s decision

James Fulton is serving maximum sentence for criminally negligent homicide following 2016 wreck
Serving 10 years for criminally negligent homicide.
Serving 10 years for criminally negligent homicide.
Updated: Apr. 2, 2019 at 5:04 PM CDT
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TYLER, TX (KLTV) -Attorneys for a man serving a 10-year prison sentence for criminally negligent homicide are appealing the court’s decision.

In Dec 2017, James Fulton was found guilty in the 2016 wreck that killed Haile Beasley, 20, of Tyler. Police said Beasley was driving eastbound on Grande Boulevard, when Fulton drove into oncoming traffic, hitting her car head-on. He was given the maximum punishment allowed for the charge of criminally negligent homicide with a deadly weapon under the Texas Penal Code.

Killed in 2016 wreck.
Killed in 2016 wreck.

A Smith County judge denied Fulton’s request for a new trial In Feb. 2018. Now the case has landed in the Twelfth Court of Appeals.

On Tuesday, members of both families sat in the courtroom as Fulton’s attorney, Jim Gibson, argued there was “an insufficiency of evidence in the case” to prove that Fulton was criminally negligent.

On the night of the wreck, Fulton drank three to four beers while at a local restaurant, according to police. Tyler police say they did not request that blood be drawn from Fulton at the time of the crash, but an officer conducted several field sobriety tests on Fulton at the scene. He was allowed to leave the scene after those field sobriety tests determined he was not intoxicated.

Fulton also said he was momentarily distracted by a deer on the side of the road before the crash. The subsequent investigation found he was driving five miles over the speed limit.

Gibson now argues that none of these factors alone are a gross deviation from what a general member of society might do, therefore arguing that it does not constitute as criminally negligent behavior.

Gibson also argues an “ineffective assistance of counsel," citing Fulton’s previous attorneys’ failure to cross examine Kierstin Woodard, a key witness during the punishment phase of the trial.

Woodard worked as a server at the Cascades Country Club. During the 2017 trial, she testified Fulton was seen drinking beer at the Cascades after the wreck and that he bought the drinks with his credit card. Woodard said she was so distraught by the fact that Fulton was out drinking that she asked another server to bring him his drinks. However, there is no record of Fulton being at the Cascades in the time following the crash or using his credit card there. Fulton’s attorney did not cross examine Woodard, which Gibson said could have led the jury to believe he did not feel remorse, thus the harsher punishment.

At Tuesday’s hearing, an attorney for the state asked that the appellate court confirm the district court’s conviction, arguing that impaired driving is blame-worthy conduct that constitutes criminal negligence.

The panel of East Texas judges is expected to make its decision in three to six months.

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