Defense attorney in fatal hit-and-run points to stress disorder

The woman whose SUV struck and killed a Columbia woman in Dupont Circle in October was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder when she hit the woman and then drove home, her attorney told a D.C. Superior Court jury Tuesday.

Prosecutors say Jorida Davidson, 31, was drunk during a hit-and-run that killed Kiela M. Ryan, 24. Prosecutors charged Davidson with several counts, including voluntary manslaughter, leaving the scene of a collision and driving under the influence. She faces a maximum of 30 years in prison.

But in his opening statement, Davidson’s attorney Joseph Hannon Jr. told the jury she suffered from childhood trauma associated with growing up in war-torn Albania and did not remember the accident.

Hannon says he planned to call Bethesda psychiatrist Susan Fiester — an expert defense witness during Lorena Bobbitt’s 1994 trial in Prince William County — during the trial. Bobbitt, charged with attacking her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt, was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Fiester interviewed Davidson for several hours after the accident, Hannon said.

Davidson had attended a friend’s birthday party the evening of Oct. 6, Hannon said. After she left, Hannon said, she crossed two lanes heading north on Connecticut Avenue to avoid going through the tunnel. Her SUV struck Ryan, who was getting out of a friend’s car parked in the 1300 block of Connecticut Avenue. Ryan had celebrated her own birthday with friends earlier that evening.

Prosecutors said Davidson, of Chevy Chase, failed two sobriety tests and declined a breath test. “Her first bad decision was getting behind the wheel after having too much to drink,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Liebman said of Davidson.

Government experts are expected to testify that Davidson was driving about 35 mph in a 25 mph zone, Liebman said.

Another key witness for the prosecution is expected to be a bicyclist who saw Ryan leave the vehicle and an SUV hit her. The cyclist followed the SUV until he could get the model, color and license plate number, then texted the information to his girlfriend at the scene.

After the accident, prosecutors said, Davidson returned to the rented condominium she shared with her husband. About an hour or so after the accident, Liebman said, Maryland police found Davidson’s SUV in the garage of the apartment building — with Davidson slumped in the driver’s seat with car keys in her hand. A police officer is expected to testify that Davidson smelled of alcohol, Liebman said.

Three hours later, while police were still questioning Davidson, she fell asleep in the back seat of the cruiser. Liebman told the jury that during interviews with police after the accident, Davidson told them she was not taking any medication and was not under the care of a physician.

During earlier hearings, Hannon asked Judge Lynn Leibovitz to exclude Davidson’s comments to police after her arrest — and also not to allow as evidence Davidson’s rejection of the breath test. The judge rejected both requests.

Dozens of Ryan’s friends and family members sat in the courtroom holding pictures of Ryan and wiping away tears. Ryan’s mother, sitting in the second row, wept as Hannon displayed photographs of the accident scene and one of Ryan’s autopsy photos.

Davidson’s arrest photo was one of the images Hannon showed. “Are you looking at a monster who was drunk and involved in a horrific accident,” Hannon asked the jury, “or at you looking at something else?”

Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of intern Chandra Levy.
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