Missouri woman enters plea in deadly Missouri wrong-way crash

Gavel on desk in courtroom

MONTGOMERY CITY, Mo. (AP) — A central Missouri woman whose lawyer claims she was drugged before a 2012 deadly wrong-way crash on Interstate 70 has been sentenced to 30 days in jail and two years of probation, nine months after her involuntary manslaughter conviction was overturned.

Kelli Smith, 27, of Columbia, entered an Alford plea Monday to a reduced charge of careless and imprudent driving. An Alford plea doesn’t admit guilt but acknowledges that prosecutors have sufficient evidence for a conviction.

Jennifer Bukowsky, one of Smith’s attorneys, said the misdemeanor plea allows Smith to avoid having a felony on her record, adding that a trial is “always a risk.”

Bukowsky has argued that someone gave Smith a date-rape drug and sexually assaulted her before the collision in Montgomery County that killed Thomas Sullivan II, 35. When rescue crews found Smith after the crash, she was naked from the waist down and was missing a shoe and her cell phone.

Sullivan’s father, Thomas Sullivan Sr., and others in the family said at Monday’s hearing that they didn’t agree with the misdemeanor count and didn’t believe Smith was drugged and assaulted.

“There is one good thing that will happen – that I will no longer have to listen to the BS in this trial, and I will never have to think of Kelli Smith again.” the elder Sullivan told The Columbia Daily Tribune.

Montgomery County Prosecutor Nathan Carroz said the plea wasn’t “the ideal outcome in a case with such severe and tragic results,” but was necessary because “changes in the law and application of the law became hurdles that made prosecution of this matter increasingly more difficult.”

Smith was convicted in December 2014 of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to five years in prison. A year later, a state appellate court panel threw out the conviction, ruling that jurors should have been given better instructions on how to consider Smith’s blood-alcohol content. Had they received proper instructions, the court said, they might have given greater weight to circumstantial evidence raised by the defense, noting the jury asked for better definitions of “under the influence” and “intoxicated condition.”

Bukowsky has argued that if Smith’s intoxication was involuntary, Smith could not be held criminally negligent.

Saint Louis University toxicologist Christopher Long, the state’s expert witness, said in a deposition filed last week that he didn’t find the blood sample reliable because it was stored in a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper’s car for 60 hours and left unrefrigerated for 10 days before testing.