Teen Driver Found Guilty

By Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Great Falls teenager who was driving more than 100 mph on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in September when she lost control of the car and slammed into a tree was convicted yesterday of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a friend killed in the crash.

Saadet Muslu, 18, wiped away tears after the verdict was announced. Her mother, sitting with relatives and friends, held her face, grimacing and crying. She wailed outside the Arlington County courtroom after her daughter was led away by a sheriff's deputy.

Jesse H. Little, 21, of Great Falls, the oldest of the five people in the Lexus, was killed in the Sept. 28 crash, which occurred at 1 a.m. near the Spout Run exit. Two teenagers were seriously injured, one of whom spent five weeks in intensive care. Both have largely recovered.

Muslu, who was 17 at the time of the crash, and the 18-year-old front-seat passenger, whose mother owned the Lexus, suffered minor injuries.

"We're very disappointed in the verdict," defense attorney Peter D. Greenspun said outside the courtroom. "We do not feel it rose to the level of involuntary manslaughter." Greenspun said that the Muslu family has been "devastated" by the crash and that no decision has been made about an appeal.

Greenspun said "parents, kids, teenagers will learn a valuable lesson" from the case. Prosecutors said speed, not alcohol, was a factor.

The Circuit Court jury of seven men and five women deliberated for two hours before reaching a verdict. Judge Benjamin N.A. Kendrick denied bail and ordered Muslu held until her May 25 sentencing. She faces up to 10 years in prison.

In his closing argument, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jason L. McCandless called Little's death a "senseless loss of life" that was caused by a teenager who was going at a "crazy speed" and shouldn't have been behind the wheel. He called it the "worst nightmare that could befall a parent."

Kendrick explained to the jury that because Muslu was 17 at the time, she was not allowed to drive from midnight to 4 a.m., except in special circumstances. Muslu had had her driver's license for five months at the time of the crash, which occurred on a cool, dry autumn weeknight.

The Lexus skidded more than 300 feet, crashed into an embankment, went airborne and then slammed into a tall tree eight feet up. Muslu admitted to police that she was going more than 100 mph on the parkway. One of the teenagers' parents testified that Muslu had told her she was going as fast as 130 mph, egged on to try to beat her friend's 123-mph record on the road, where the speed limit is 40 at that spot.

Greenspun maintained throughout the three-day trial that Muslu was subjected to intense peer pressure to make the luxury car go faster. One of the teenagers in the car testified that the front-seat passenger, Joy Goktepe, repeatedly pressured Muslu to step on the gas to prove that Goktepe's mother's car was faster than Muslu's BMW.

McCandless told the jury that Muslu could not "hide behind peer pressure" because as the driver, she was the "captain of the ship" and, therefore, legally responsible.

Greenspun painted a picture of a meandering night among the friends in the Lexus, with frequent cellphone calls, text messages and brief stops at various places around Northern Virginia, all with music blaring. He called it a case of "social issues" involving "cellphones, cars and hanging out."

One of the teenagers testified that "nothing was going on" that night and that the group was looking for something to do. There was conflicting testimony during the trial about whether they were headed to Georgetown or Old Town Alexandria at the time of the crash.

McCandless, who told the jury that Muslu was carrying a designer Chanel bag when she was interviewed by detectives, said prosecutors were not trying to depict her as a "coldhearted, spoiled" teen who "didn't have remorse" about the death of her friend. During the trial, prosecutors said Muslu cared more about her own fate than about the welfare of her injured friends, asking repeatedly at the crash scene, "What's going to happen to me?"

The emotional case brought tears on both sides of the divided courtroom.

Harrell W. Little Jr., the victim's adoptive father, said he deeply mourned the loss of his son. Little said he had taken Jesse in as a foster child when the boy was 14. Little said his son often associated with younger children because he felt more comfortable around them.

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