Appeals Court Upholds DUI Manslaughter Conviction Of Cantonment Man

March 1, 2018

Florida’s First District Court of Appeal on Wednesday upheld the 15 year prison sentence of a Cantonment man or a November 2013 traffic crash that claimed the life of his 54-year old passenger.

In 2014, Melvin Lewis Pryear was sentenced by Circuit Judge Erwin Fleet to 15 years in state prison for DUI manslaughter and to one concurrent year in the county jail for DUI property damage for the death of Albertina McCarty of Pensacola.

Pryear had a blood alcohol level of .196 which is over twice the legal limit. He also tested positive for use of marijuana.

While driving under the influence, Pryear he pulled into the path of a 18-wheeler at Highway 29 and Muscogee Road near International Paper. The Florida Highway Patrol said that according to multiple witnesses,  both north and southbound Highway 29 had a green light, but there was no green turn arrow for Pryear.

The front of the 18-wheeler struck Pryear’s vehicle causing it to rotate onto the southbound shoulder at the Raceway gas station. McCarty, Pryear’s passenger,  was pronounced deceased at the scene by Escambia County EMS.

Testifying at trial were two sisters who witnessed the accident. The first sister testified that when she saw Pryear’s car start to turn, she said to herself, “Don’t go, don’t go,” because the semi-truck was too close for the oncoming car to safely make the turn. The second sister testified that the semi-truck was moving fast, estimating that the truck appeared to be “doing every bit of [the 40 or 45 miles per hour speed limit] coming through the intersection.”

Other eye witnesses testified that Pryear smelled of alcohol and had beer cans in his car. The traffic homicide investigator testified that, hours later, Appellant’s eyes were still bloodshot and watery and his speech was slurred.

Acting as his own attorney before the appeals court, Pryear made several claims. In the first, Pryear argued that his trial attorney was ineffective for failing to renew an objection to striking an an African-American juror, but the court found that a white juror was also removed. He claimed ineffective counsel, but the court found he could not show any actions by his attorney changed the outcome of the trial.

In Pryear’s second claim, he argued that his attorney should have moved to strike the highway patrol trooper’s improper opinion testimony that he was at fault in the accident and that the trooper had “other circumstances” that led him to believe that Appellant was intoxicated.

The challenged testimony occurred in the context of cross-examination. Defense counsel asked whether Pryear’s bloodshot eyes and the scent of alcohol on his breath provided the basis for the belief that he was intoxicated at the time of the accident. The trooper replied, “He was also at fault for causing a fatality.” The defense counsel then asked, “So you’re saying Pryear was at fault, but the investigation wasn’t completed was it?” The trooper responded, “No, but we had the circumstances.” The trooper also agreed that he did not witness the accident, and had not yet spoken to witnesses at the time he reached the conclusion.

The appeals court determined that there is no reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would have been different if the trooper’s testimony regarding the intoxication had been disallowed.

In this third claim, Pryear alleged that his attorney should have moved to acquittal on the bases that the state failed to prove the element of intoxication. The claim was denied because when the blood alcohol results of .196 were introduced, the defense counsel indicated that he had no objection.

Pryear also alleged that his attorney was ineffective for failing to object to erroneous jury instructions, and that his attorney was ineffective for failing to object to an improper closing argument. The claim stemmed for the prosecutor’s closing argument:

“So I really must ask you to look at the evidence that’s been presented through trial yesterday and today. Apply the law that I’ve touched upon and you’ll be further instructed on, and use your common sense. What that’s going to tell you is that the defendant was driving the vehicle, that the defendant had a blood alcohol level of .196 or higher, that he had marijuana in his system at the time he was driving, that he pulled out in front of that truck that caused not only damage to the truck and the Sebring he was driving, but it also caused and contributed to the death of Ms. McCarty. If he doesn’t do that, that crash doesn’t happen and she doesn’t die. He caused or contributed to her death.

“That evidence is—won’t be contradicted, and because it won’t be contradicted, there is no reasonable doubt as far as his guilt. He is guilty as charged for DUI, driving under the influence, manslaughter and driving under the influence, damage to property. Thank you.”

The appeals court found that even if the defense lawyer had objected to the closing arguments, it would still not change the facts that Pryear was driving while heavily impaired, when he turned in front of the semi-truck without adequate space, violating the truck’s right-of-way.

In his sixth appears claim, Pryear argued that his attorney was ineffective for failing to call defense witness Amanda Price to testify. Appellant alleged that Price would have testified that the driver of the semi-truck was speeding and driving erratically at the time of the accident, thus contradicting the truck driver’s testimony that he was not speeding, as well as the testimony of the highway patrol trooper and the traffic homicide investigator. But the court found that even if Price  had testified, the outcome of the trial would not have been different.

In his seventh claim, Pryear argued that the overall effect of all the errors by his attorney deprived him of a fair trail, but the court found this claim was properly denied.

And in his final argument, Pryear said the trial court committed fundamental error in instructing the jury on the statutory presumption of impairment. The appeals court found the defense counsel did not object to the introduction of the lab report, therefore, the trial court had no basis to disregard the evidence of impairment.


5 Responses to “Appeals Court Upholds DUI Manslaughter Conviction Of Cantonment Man”

  1. retired on March 1st, 2018 3:44 pm

    ONLY 15 YEARS????????????

    I’ll bet he had a lot of auto insurance (haha)

  2. Jimmy Cranston on March 1st, 2018 10:05 am

    Nah, still guilty.

  3. Scott on March 1st, 2018 9:40 am

    Melvin was a troublemaker in high school. Been a troublemaker ever since. Take a look at public records folks. Yes, he has always blamed everyone else but himself for what he’s done wrong. He’s a loser who finally lost.

  4. Nana of 16 on March 1st, 2018 8:19 am

    REALLY….Sounds like my EX-husband (also a drunk with multiple wrecks) always a reason for someone else to be blamed and never taking responsibility for his own actions.

  5. willy on March 1st, 2018 8:01 am

    it would seem to me by the time you get this mans age, you would start to learn how to admit fault and at a minimum show some sort of remorse for having been the cause of another person’s death. This person shows none of these qualities of being a decent human being and deserves to spend his life in jail thinking about the woman he murdered in the vehicle that day.