Defense rests in Rode trial; jurors to continue deliberating Monday

  • Defendant James Rode during his negligent vehicular homicide trial in Greenfield District Court. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Defendant James Rode, right, and his attorney Kevin Reddington during his negligent vehicular homicide trial in Greenfield District Court. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Defendant James Rode’s attorney Kevin Reddington refers the jury to a diagram of the intersection of High and Sanderson streets, where the accident occurred in October 2017, in Greenfield District Court during closing arguments. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • First Assistant District Attorney Steven Gagne makes his case for conviction to the jury in Greenfield District Court during closing arguments. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Defendant James Rode, left, listens as his attorney Kevin Reddington makes closing arguments to the jury in his negligent vehicular homicide trial in Greenfield District Court. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/24/2020 7:37:50 PM
Modified: 1/24/2020 7:37:37 PM

GREENFIELD — Jurors in the vehicular homicide trial involving a former Greenfield Police sergeant had been deliberating about a half-hour Friday when Judge Lynn Connly released them for the weekend at 4:30 p.m., telling them to return Monday morning to resume their civic duty.

Eight jurors sat through the trial in Greenfield District Court and two of them were randomly selected as alternates before they entered deliberation following the parties’ closing arguments. The six jurors are made up of four women and two men. Connly cautioned them not to discuss the case with anyone and to avoid media reports about it.

The state made its case against former Sgt. James B. Rode on Thursday. Rode’s attorney, Kevin Reddington, brought in former State Police Lt. Andrew Klane on Friday to contradict the testimony of former colleague State Police Maj. John Pinkham, an expert witness called by the state. Klane, who now works as a crash reconstruction consultant in the private sector, took the stand to argue Rode was not to blame for the 2017 collision that killed James Arcellana, 29, of Hinsdale, N.H.

In July 2018, Klane inspected the vehicles involved in the crash and he said he has spent roughly 20 hours analyzing data from the incident.

According to the Massachusetts State Police report filed by Trooper Joseph Ballou, Rode was southbound on High Street responding to a call of an erratic operator shortly after 8 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2017, when the police cruiser he was driving collided in the Sanderson Street intersection with a westbound 2010 Subaru Impreza driven by Arcellana, who died three days later of blunt force trauma to the head.

Rode was arraigned in July 2018 on charges of negligent vehicular homicide and speeding. Motor vehicle homicide is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 2½ years in prison and carries a 15-year loss of a driver’s license if convicted.

On Thursday, the prosecution brought in eight witnesses to build its case that Rode’s reckless behavior caused the fatal accident. The defense, on the other hand, insists Arcellana ran a stop sign on Sanderson Street.

Klane said Rode, who was operating a black Ford Explorer “low profile” police cruiser, “meaning it was marked with department lettering, but no overhead lightbar,” was driving 64.4 mph when the collision occurred. He also said Arcellana was driving 22.2 mph at the moment of impact. Klane stated Arcellana could not have stopped at the stop sign or the edge of the road (where experts say most vehicles would crawl up to because bushes obstructed the right-hand view up High Street) and then reach 22.2 mph, covering 37 feet, by the time of the collision.

“There was not enough distance to achieve that speed based on the acceleration rate of the Subaru,” Klane said.

He told the jury each crash scene is “like a puzzle” and investigators must analyze every piece of evidence, including skid marks and debris.

By contrast, on Thursday, Pinkham said Rode was driving 83.2 mph (114 feet per second) before the accident, and 63.3 mph at the moment of impact. The prosecution had argued Arcellana could not have seen the cruiser or its lights due to the obstructive bushes.

But Reddington showed jurors an enlarged photograph of a clear view up High Street from the edge of where Sanderson Street meets High Street.

Before Friday’s session began, Gagne filed a motion to prevent Klane from testifying. He told Connly that Klane had emailed him his calculations at 10:15 p.m. Wednesday and his eight or nine enlarged diagrams at 10:45 p.m. on Thursday. He argued this was not enough time to review the evidence, as he did not see the emailed diagrams until 4 a.m. Friday. The prosecution had been in possession of the diagrams approximately 12 hours before they were used as evidence in the courtroom.

Reddington argued there has been “an amicable flow of discovery,” and the photography used was not sophisticated. Connly said the emailed information was “definitely later than it should have been,” but denied Gagne’s motion. However, she allowed Pinkham to review the diagrams and sit with Gagne.

During cross-examination, Gagne scrutinized Klane’s methods, saying it appears his standards have lowered since he was employed by the State Police’s Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Section.

“I feel that my work stands on its own,” Klane replied. “I’m confident in the results of my work.”

Gagne also criticized Klane for having no peer review of his work and for not issuing any report. Klane said he writes reports only when he is asked to by his client. Klane also said he did not hear Rode’s recorded post-accident interview until Thursday’s court session, and was also initially unaware of the name of the victim’s passenger until Gagne mentioned it.

Gagne reminded Klane that the passenger, 32-year-old Gill resident Michael Palumbo, testified under oath that Arcellana stopped at the stop sign. Gagne asked if Palumbo was incorrect and Klane answered affirmatively.

“My findings are based on science and the evidence,” he said.

Gagne pointed out he felt Klane presented only evidence that put the accident’s sole blame on Arcellana.

One of the enlarged photographs depicted what theoretically would have been Rode’s clear vantage point as he drove down High Street. But Gagne mentioned the photograph was taken on a grassy strip adjacent to the sidewalk — not in the road — and during the daytime, whereas the accident happened around 8 p.m., when it was dark.

Klane agreed with Gagne. He also agreed with Pinkham’s testimony that if Rode had been driving 74 mph or slower, it would have taken 0.3 seconds longer to get to the intersection and he would have just missed Arcellana and Palumbo.

During closing arguments, Reddington thanked the jurors for their service and reminded them that the government has the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. He said the state failed to determine that Rode’s operation of the cruiser caused Arcellana’s death. He also said Rode had the right of way and had every intention to protect and serve the community that fateful night.

Gagne told the jurors Arcellana made a decision based on his best judgment and paid for it with his life.

“But it’s not his fault. It’s this man’s fault,” he said, pointing at Rode without looking in his direction.

He reiterated that Rode did not use his emergency sirens and failed to avoid creating a greater public threat than the one he was reporting to. Gagne said the cruel irony is that Rode was responding to a call of an erratic operator and ultimately became one himself. The prosecutor said Rode should have used his 15 years of police experience to understand the need for haste was lessened by the fact that three other officers were responding to the same call.

Gagne also said Klane’s last-minute production of the diagrams was “like an eighth-grader trying to get a term paper done before finals.”

Before the jurors entered deliberation, Connly told them they must determine if Rode was negligent. She explained negligence is the failure to use proper care, and Rode was negligent “if he drove in a way that a reasonable person would not have.” Connly said Rode did not testify in the trial, as is his right, and this decision should not be viewed as an admission of guilt.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.




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