Convicted in traffic death, huffer seeks new trial

Danielle Packer
Danielle Packer Mug shot

A woman convicted of murder after a fatal accident in 2012 was back in court Monday afternoon for a hearing on a motion seeking a new trial.

Danielle Packer, 23, of Bellefonte, was sentenced to 10-20 years in state prison by President Judge Thomas King Kistler in January on charges including third-degree murder, vehicular homicide and DUI. The charges stem from an accident that claimed the life of 25-year-old Matthew Snyder in August 2012 after Packer huffed cans of Dust-Off, an aerosol product, with the intent of getting high.

Deborah Lux, Packer’s public defender, filed a motion Feb. 2 asking for a new trial for Packer for several reasons, including error in jury instruction and the potential prejudice against Packer that the testimony of Snyder’s wife and the display of their wedding photo during the trial could have caused the jury.

Lux also alleged that prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence, or evidence favorable to her client, by failing to disclose information that a pathologist described the amount of intoxicants in Packer’s blood after the crash as “woefully inadequate.”

The pathologist, Dr. Harry Kamerow, testified Monday that the use of those words were taken out of context by Lux in the court filing, and were taken from a phone call that happened shortly before the filing was made.

He was contacted by the District Attorney’s Office about providing an opinion on Packer’s toxicology report in 2012, but he declined to offer consultation for the case, he said. However, his decision did not signify that he thought the intoxicant in her blood was not a contributing factor, and he said he “generically” agreed with the prosecution that huffing caused the accident. Declining only meant that there was not enough clinical history at the time to go along with Packer’s lab reports that would allow him to make a determination and comfortably testify in court that the inhalant in her blood was the cause of the accident beyond a reasonable doubt, he said.

“I didn’t think those facts were a slam dunk,” he said.

Kistler, who heard the proceedings Monday, did not make a ruling but gave Lux 15 days to file an additional brief on the matter and Parks Miller 15 days after that to file a response.

Kistler said that he has 90 days from the original filing date, plus an additional 30 days if requested, to make a decision on the motion for a new trial. If nothing is determined by that time, the motion will be denied automatically, but the defense can appeal to the state Superior Court, Kistler said.

Kamerow’s testimony ended with questions from District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller that seemed unrelated to the Packer case: She asked him if he had ever been contacted by attorney Sean McGraw.

Kamerow responded that he had been. McGraw called him and said that there was a group of lawyers who were questioning the District Attorney’s Office and Parks Miller specifically, and they’d like to speak with him about the Packer case.

Parks Miller said Kamerow told her about the contact between he and McGraw after it happened, and she described it as “more meddling by unscrupulous people.”

McGraw, a former assistant district attorney in Parks Miller’s office, and Parks Miller have been at odds recently. McGraw represents Michelle Shutt, the former paralegal from the District Attorney’s Office who signed an affidavit alleging she witnessed Parks Miller forge the signature of Judge Pamela A. Ruest and had staff members work on her re-election campaign.

McGraw also made filings questioning communications between Parks Miller and members of the county judiciary in the case of one of his clients, and he and his law firm are listed as co-defendants in lawsuits filed against the county by Parks Miller and District Judge Kelley Gillette-Walker. McGraw motioned to disqualify Parks Miller and her office from hearing the cases of two of his clients. That motion was denied earlier this month.

McGraw denied the implication that he contacted Kamerow as part of a conspiracy.

He said he and Kamerow became friends when McGraw worked as a prosecutor, and the Packer case came up at a social setting at Kamerow’s home over dinner in November 2014.

“The implication that I contacted Dr. Kamerow as part of some conspiracy of ‘unscrupulous persons’ is totally false,” he said.

McGraw commended Lux for bringing the matter before the court and said that insisting cases be adjudicated constitutionally is “hardly meddling.”

“Prosecutors have an absolute duty under the Constitution to disclose exculpatory evidence,” McGraw said.