A state appeals court Wednesday upheld the capital murder conviction of Rashad Owens for driving a car down a crowded downtown Austin street, killing four during the 2014 South by Southwest music festival.
Owens, who is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, asked the 3rd Court of Appeals to overturn his conviction, arguing that it was not supported by evidence that he knowingly acted in a manner likely to cause death when he drove around a street barricade and through a crowd while being pursued by police.
Instead, Owens claimed, the evidence showed that he intended only to evade police and that he drove recklessly while intoxicated.
The appeals court rejected that argument, noting that Owens’ car was estimated to be traveling at 55 mph after he turned onto Red River Street between East Ninth and East 11th streets.
“Multiple witnesses, including some who were hit by the car, testified that they heard the car accelerate as it drove through the crowded street and that they never saw the car’s brake lights illuminated,” said the ruling, written by Chief Justice Jeff Rose.
“The jury also heard testimony that as Owens drove on Red River, people were screaming, there were loud, thudding sounds as the car was hitting bodies and sending them flying in the air, and some bodies were rolling off of the car,” Rose wrote.
Based on the testimony and evidence, jurors would have been justified in determining that Owens should have been aware that his actions were “reasonably certain to result in death,” the ruling said.
The appeals court also rejected three other claims raised by Owens, including an argument that prosecutors misstated the law during closing arguments by saying that Owens was “aware that his conduct could kill people” and that he “knew what he was doing.”
Owens could not raise the claim on appeal, the court ruled, because his trial lawyers failed to object to the statements when they were made to the jury.
The series of crashes along Red River, which had been closed to traffic, left more than 20 people hospitalized and immediately killed Steven Craenmehr, a 35-year-old a Dutch musician who had been riding a bicycle, and 27-year-old Jamie West of Austin, who had been on a motorcycle with her husband Evan, who was injured.
Sandy Le, 26, a Mississippi resident who had moved to Austin to qualify for Texas residency for college, and DeAndre Tatum, an 18-year-old from Fort Worth who was in Austin for the music festival, died days later in the hospital.
The early morning carnage also changed the way Austin police and festival organizers provide security for the city’s many public events, with more cameras, stronger traffic enforcement and better coordination among security personnel.