Opening statements, witnesses take stand in trial for man accused of killing cyclist

Opening statements, witnesses take stand in trial for man accused of killing cyclist
Nathan Crowson
Nathan Crowson
Danny Morris
Danny Morris

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The state gave their opening arguments Wednesday morning on how they plan to show Joseph Branch's decisions to drink and drive caused the death of Nathan Crowson and the serious injury of Danny Morris. Prosecutors say the crash happened eight minutes after Branch left a bar.

The defense in their opening statesmen said the fault is not that of his client, some things just happen. He says the two cyclists were dressed in dark clothing and tested positive for marijuana.

Joseph Branch is accused of hitting Nathan Crowson and Daniel Morris with his vehicle on January 21, 2012 on Perkins Road near Pennington Biomedical Center.

Crowson was pronounced dead at the scene. Morris was in the hospital for nearly a month due to the injuries he suffered in the crash.

According to a DWI officer, he testified that when he arrived on scene, he smelled a very strong odor of alcohol on Branch and that the man also had slurred speech and blood shot eyes and at various points refused to complete field sobriety tests.

A video was shown in court of the officer giving Branch instruction's and demonstrating what to do for the field sobriety test. Branch begins to do it and then says, "I can't do that," and refused to complete the test.

Three other witnesses testified they saw Branch driving at a high rate of speed and heard a loud noise when he hit the two cyclists. And at one point saw a body fly in the air and land on the trunk of Branch's car.

One witness said he pulled up beside Branch, stopped his car and saw Branch messing with his phone. He then got out and went to check on the victim who's body was on Branch's trunk. He said eventually Branch did get out of the car and asked him, "what's going on?" To which the witness replied "are you frickin' serious?"

Investigators say Branch had a blood alcohol level of .307 at the time of the crash, which is nearly four times the legal limit. Branch's attorney, DeVan Pardue, has said in the past that he believes the machine used to test his client's blood alcohol level gave an inaccurate reading.

After the trial on Wednesday, Danny Morris was upset with the statements from the defense about he and Crowson wearing dark clothing and testing positive for marijuana.

"Pouring salt in our wounds. No sympathy what so ever. No remorse. The guy is a killer. As far as I'm concerned, he's cold-blooded," said Morris. "He knows what he did. He has no remorse for it. He's trying to get away with it.He didn't even get out of the car. The other guy did. He ran over somebody, killed my friend. I don't know what he did to me and then he's on his phone texting. He didn't even get out of his car to see if we're ok. Somebody else did. Like, what does that say about the person?"

Morris has no memory of the crash.

The trial is expected to last through the week with a list of more than 40 people that could be called up as potential witnesses, including law enforcement and friends of the victim. The surviving victim, Morris, is also scheduled to take the stand.

Branch is charged with vehicular homicide and  first degree vehicular negligent injuring.

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