HAVERHILL — Testifying before a packed courtroom Tuesday, Aaron Deveau fidgeted and gave clipped answers as he told a jury that he was not sending a text message in the moments leading up to the fatal head-on collision that killed Donald Bowley Jr. and seriously injured Bowley’s girlfriend, Luz Roman.
Deveau, 18, is the first in the state to be tried on texting-while-driving charges.
During about 30 minutes on the stand in Haverhill District Court, Deveau appeared nervous and uncertain, sometimes stuttering when answering questions from both the defense and prosecution. However, he said he was certain that he had placed his cellphone on the passenger seat of his car after he pulled out of the Market Basket supermarket parking lot and did not pick it up again until after the collision.
Deveau’s testimony came at the end of a weeklong trial, during which prosecutors revealed that Deveau had sent and received 193 text messages on Feb. 20, 2011, the day of the crash. The jury began its deliberations Tuesday afternoon.
While on the stand Deveau answered a few questions from the defense about when he acquired his driver’s license before intense questioning from Essex Assistant District Attorney Ashlee Logan, who tried to get Deveau to establish a timeline of events, including his texting activities.
Deveau often said he did not recall exact times that he sent text messages, including those sent immediately before the crash.
Deveau had told police in an interview that he sent the last text message at 2:33 p.m., but phone records show there was a message sent at 2:34 p.m., two minutes prior to the collision. Deveau’s lawyer, Joseph Lussier, told jurors in closing arguments that the crash was not the result of Deveau’s texting, despite assertions that phone records show Deveau sent and received four text messages minutes before the crash.
“They have to put the cellphone in his hands,’’ at the time of the crash, Lussier told jurors. “He has to have seen the text message that they are talking about.”
Lussier urged jurors to remember Deveau’s testimony that he did not send or a receive a text from the moment the key was in the ignition of his car. He argued that the number of texts sent by Deveau that day did not matter.
But the prosecution disagreed, pointing out that Deveau had been texting the same person since 6:40 a.m. and the conversation continued after the crash and the interview with the police.
“He’s a texter. That’s what he does,” she said. “You can tell who he is by what he does. The records don’t lie. The records are the best evidence you have. They can’t change the time the last text message was sent. “
Logan told jurors that she was not accusing Deveau of deliberately causing the crash and that no evidence suggests that Deveau meant to cross into oncoming traffic. “You are never going to hear me say he meant to do it, but that does not matter,’’ she Logan said. “Intent does not matter.”
Logan also attacked the defense assertion that the prosecution must show he was using the phone. Under state law, she stressed, teenage drivers are not permitted to handle a phone in a vehicle. Deveau was 17 at the time of the crash.
“Everyone is forgetting that he is not allowed to have that phone,’’ Logan said. “It doesn’t matter if he’s still there in the parking lot.”
Deveau is also charged with negligent motor vehicle homicide.
Abany explained to the jury the state must prove that Deveau was driving negligently, which then caused Bowley’s death.
The jury will continue its deliberations at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday.
Bowley’s three adult children, two brothers, and sister Donna Burleigh attended the trial. On Tuesday, Burleigh told reporters that sitting through the testimony was extremely difficult.
“Losing somebody you love is not easy. Seeing them in the condition he was in is not easy,” she said. “I just hope that no one else has to experience the pain and anguish that we have gone through.’’
contributed to this report.
Alejandra Matos can be reached