WILKES-BARRE — Vehicular homicide suspect Tyler Duda’s actions “do not amount to the mental state of malice required for a third-degree murder conviction,” his attorneys argued in documents filed Tuesday in Luzerne County Court.
Duda was 16 at the time of the July 5 incident that left Nanticoke resident Nicholas Zurilla, 59, dead after he was struck by an SUV outside his home at 340 W. Union St. Now 17, Duda and his lawyers are fighting to have his case moved to juvenile court.
The brief on Duda’s behalf, filed by Luzerne County First Assistant Public Defender Demetrius Fannick and Public Defender Cheryl A. Sobeski-Reedy, comes in response to a two-day decertification hearing held last week before county Judge Lesa Gelb.
Testimony over the two days included appearances by a number of experts for both sides, with Duda’s mental health and behavioral issues a key focus for both sides.
Duda, of Kingston Township, has pleaded not guilty to charges of homicide by vehicle, third-degree murder, accidents involving death, driving without a license, speeding, reckless driving and failing to stay in lane.
According to Sobeski-Reedy and Fannick, “Tyler’s actions and circumstances involving the accident are indicative of the type of juvenile impulsivity and poor decision-making typically seen in the developing teenage brain,” their brief states. They argue that moving him to the juvenile system, with appropriate treatment, would maximize Duda’s chances of becoming a productive member of society.
Duda stands accused of taking his mother’s 2013 Ford Edge without her knowledge and was out joy riding with Donald Kinney Jr., 16, in Nanticoke on the way to visit a female friend.
A state police reconstruction of the crash alleges Duda was traveling in excess of 70 mph when he struck Zurilla, arrest papers say. The speed limit on West Union Street is 25 mph.
Sobeski-Reedy and Fannick argue that “other discerning factors,” in addition to speeding, are needed to support a finding of malice to support a third-degree murder conviction. If the court finds no prima facie case for third-degree murder, but does find a prima facie case for homicide by motor vehicle and/or other charges, “then the case automatically goes to the juvenile justice system,” they argue.
The prosecution also is expected to file a brief in the case, and Gelb is expected to rule by May 5.