May 1 (UPI) — A Michigan man was found guilty of second-degree murder Tuesday in the deaths of five bicyclists in 2016.
Jurors in a Kalamazoo County court found Charles Pickett Jr., 52, guilty on five counts of second-degree murder and four counts of driving while intoxicated causing serious injury.
Pickett is set to be sentenced on June 11 by Kalamazoo County Circuit Judge Paul Bridenstine and faces up to life prison.
Pickett struck nine members of a cycling group called the Chain Gang with his pickup truck on June 7, 2016, after consuming a handful of pills in a Red Roof Inn parking lot following a funeral for his cousin.
Pickett struck and killed Debra Ann Bradley, 53, of Augusta; Melissa Ann Fevig Hughes, 42, of Kalamazoo; Fred Anton “Tony” Nelson, 73, of Kalamazoo; Lorenz John “Larry” Paulik, 74, of Kalamazoo and Suzanne Joan Sippel, 56, of Augusta.
Jennifer Johnson of Kalamazoo; Sheila Jeske of Richland; Paul Runnels of Richland and Paul Gobble of Richland were injured in the crash.
Defense attorney Keith Turpel argued Pickett had “the presumption of innocence” and cited a lack of evidence he was aware taking the pills would result in the five deaths.
“You need more than the driving, you need willfulness, knowledge,” Turpel said. “Look closely. It’s got to be beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Kalamazoo County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Kanaby told jurors Pickett tailgated other drivers, ran into curbs, passed on the right, remained stopped at a traffic light after it changed and almost got into a head-on collision in the 30 minutes after leaving the funeral.
“He is not oblivious to what’s going on, he had an opportunity to stop,” Kanaby said. “These warnings along the way should have gotten his attention.”
Jurors ultimately decided there was sufficient evidence Pickett acted in “wanton and willful disregard” despite the likelihood his actions would cause death or serious injury.