HARRISBURG – A Pennsylvania woman is set to have her involuntary manslaughter and reckless driving conviction case reheard on the grounds of timeliness requirements after the state Supreme Court granted her Petition for Allowance of Appeal.
Lakisha Marie Ward Green’s petition stems from recently uncovered evidence her attorneys used to overturn her initial guilty plea, and came after new evidence found that General Motors' faulty ignition may have been a factor in the deadly crash that led to her conviction.
Green’s case made its way all the way to the state’s high court after a Superior Court panel reversed lower court Judge Philip Anthony Ignelzi's decision to overturn her involuntary manslaughter and reckless driving conviction, on the grounds that she missed a deadline for filing a related appeal.
While acknowledging that newly discovered exculpatory evidence may have been of consequence in adjudicating the case, the Superior Court found the plaintiff’s March 2015 petition for post-conviction relief came after the 60-day deadline for filing any claim predicated on new evidence being discovered.
The Superior Court panel noted Ward-Green was first made aware that she might have a valid claim against GM’s ignition settlement fund in October 2014.
Attorneys for Ward-Green contend their client only received expert testimony definitively concluding that the crash was “due to the failure of a defective ignition switch” in late January 2015, putting her petition for post-conviction relief within the allotted time frame for her case to be reheard.
In agreeing to rehear Ward-Green’s challenge, the Supreme Court outlined how it plans to weigh whether exception to the timeliness requirement of the state’s Post-Conviction Relief Act for after-discovered facts should require the petitioner to “file an appeal before verifying unknown, but suspected, facts through expert analysis and whether the trial court’s determination of the deadline to file is entitled to deference by the high court.”
In September 2010, Ward-Green was the driver of a 2007 Cobalt in which 16-year-old Robert Chambers was a passenger when the car careened off the roadway and struck a pole, instantly killing Chambers when airbags did not deploy.
Even though Ward-Green was found to be driving as much as 40 mph over the speed limit, a determination was made that there was an ignition switch error that caused the car to lose power steering and braking.
Two years later, she entered her guilty plea to the charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless driving, but just months later sought to withdraw it after negotiating a plea agreement that called for a four-to-eight-month sentence instead of the two years behind bars she initially faced.
In 2015, she filed a PCRA petition seeking to withdraw her guilty plea entirely, based on mounting evidence that concluded the head-on collision was due to “mechanical failure in her vehicle caused by a defectively designed ignition switch.”
In a statement released to the Pennsylvania Record, her attorney, Robert C. Hilliard of Hilliard Munoz Gonzales LLP, said: “Why in the world the prosecutor determined to appeal, given the clear facts and the admitted culpability of GM, is head-scratching and mean-spirited.”
The Texas-based Hilliard is one of the lead attorneys in pursuit claims against GM pouring in from across the country.
“I am grateful that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided to allow Ms. Ward-Green to appeal the Superior Court's reversal,” he added. “I look forward to fully presenting Ms. Ward-Green's appeal to the honorable members of Pennsylvania's high court."
Hilliard previously represented Candice Anderson in a similar case, ultimately gaining a not-guilty verdict in 2014 on the involuntary manslaughter charges she once stood convicted of.
Back in 2004, Anderson lost control of her 2004 Saturn ION while driving down a county road in East Texas in the middle of the day. Her lone passenger, fiancé Gene Mikale Erickson, was instantly killed in the crash when both he and Anderson’s airbags failed to deploy due to a substandard ignition switch.
In all, 13 confirmed fatalities have now been linked to faulty GM ignition switches.