Crime

Packer guilty of murder, ten other counts in Benner Pike huffing crash

The prosecution showed video and receipts and 911 calls that pulled together a picture of about five minutes of Danielle Packer’s life, five minutes that ended Matthew Snyder’s.

A Centre County jury deliberated on the prosecution’s case for about two hours Wednesday before deciding Packer, of Bellefonte, was guilty of murder.

The jury returned a guilty verdict on 11 of the 12 criminal charges against her, including felony counts of third degree murder, aggravated assault, homicide by vehicle, homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence and aggravated assault by vehicle while under the influence and misdemeanor counts of involuntary manslaughter, DUI, DUI solvents or noxious substances, simple assault, reckless endangerment and inhalation.

They gave one not guilty, to the felony count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Judge Bradley P. Lunsford entered guilty verdicts on six summary traffic offenses.

“I am grateful for a fair and just verdict by the jury,” said District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller. “I hope this allows the family to start healing.”

Family was foremost in the courtroom, with 25 of Snyder’s loved ones filling the seats.

The first image of the trial was a picture was of a smiling guy on one of the happiest days of his life.

“That was our wedding day,” his wife Whitney said.

Fourteen months later, Snyder, 25, of Howard, gave his daughter a bath, got her ready for bed and left for work. He never came home, dying along Benner Pike after an August 2012 collision.

In opening arguments, Parks Miller said the crash occurred as Packer, “zombified” after intentionally huffing computer dusting spray, recklessly and maliciously drove away from Wal-Mart toward Bellefonte.

Public defender Deborah Lux didn’t deny it. In fact, she told the jury her client was responsible.

“She is responsible for this horrible accident,” she said. “She should be held accountable.”

However, she said, the murder charges in the case were “overcharged” by prosecutors, asking the jury to consider the lesser vehicular-homicide charges instead.

Rockview state prison worker John Herbert was the first person at the scene. He spoke to Packer there, and repeated her first words after the crash.

“Am I going to go to jail for this?”

Mount Nittany Medical Center pathologist Paul Murray testified that Matthew Snyder had died of hemothorax after lacerating his aorta, his lungs filling with blood. Death occurred in minutes.

Three hours after the crash, the amount of difluoroethane in Packer’s blood was .28 micrograms per milliliter.

It is a small amount, at the very edge of the spectrum of what is detectable, but according to forensic toxicology expert Wendy Adams, the timeline is what makes it notable.

Adams told the jury that the chemical Packer inhaled from cans of 3M computer dusting spray has a remarkably short life in the body. The high comes quickly, but leaves rapidly, just like the evidence.

Lux questioned the numbers, but Assistant District Attorney Nathan Boob was prepared.

“Obviously, a substantial amount was inhaled to be detectable three hours later,” he said. Adams concurred, upholding her opinion that “huffing” the chemical was a “direct and substantial cause of the crash.”

Another key witness in the prosecution was Packer’s fiancé, a passenger in her vehicle at the time of the collision.

Julian Shutak told the jury that he was the one who had introduced Packer to huffing, even demonstrating his technique to get the best high.

Shutak followed a pattern that goes back to the night of the incident for Packer and himself, vacillating on one of the key details — whether Packer huffed while behind the wheel at the red light at the corner of Shiloh Road and Benner Pike.

Packer remains in Centre County Correctional Facility pending sentencing on Dec. 19.

Parks Miller said she expects the sentence to be “substantial.”

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