Criminal Justice

10 years after fatal accident, conviction is reversed; GM knew its car was to blame but kept quiet

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Convicted of negligent homicide in a fatal 2004 crash that killed her fiance, a Texas woman has lived with guilt and public disapprobation and worried about her limited career options for nearly a decade.

But on Monday, almost exactly a decade after the accident, a Van Zandt County judge granted her writ of habeas corpus, voiding her guilty plea and clearing her record, at the request of the prosecution, according to the Detroit News and the New York Times (reg. req.).

Although Candice Anderson had a trace amount of Xanax in her system, the cause of the accident, as General Motors concluded in a 2007 internal review, was linked to a faulty ignition switch.

GM publicly acknowledged the link this week, but the company didn’t say anything to Anderson about the cause of the accident at the time.

Consequently, she took a felony plea in the case, was sentenced to probation and tried to move on with her life. It wasn’t until the mother of her deceased fiance, Mikale Erickson, contacted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this spring and learned that GM attributed the crash to an ignition-switch issue that Anderson learned, through Rhonda Erickson, she wasn’t to blame for the accident, reports CNNMoney.

The defect in Anderson’s 2004 Saturn Ion “caused her vehicle to seize up, locking her steering and making any control of her vehicle impossible,” wrote former district attorney Leslie Poynter Dixon in a July letter seeking a pardon for Anderson. “It is my opinion that no action or omission of Ms. Anderson was the cause of the accident that led to her criminal charges. Had I known at the time that GM knew of these issues and has since admitted to such, I do not believe the grand jury would have indicted her for intoxication manslaughter.”

A GM lawyer confirmed in a Sunday email that the company “has determined that the crash involving Ms. Anderson is one in which the recall condition may have caused or contributed to the frontal air bag non-deployment in the accident,” reports the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.).

The ignition-switch issue, which can allow the key slip into a position in which it turns the engine off, has led to millions of recalled vehicles and dozens of fatal accidents.

“GM knew this defect caused this death yet, instead of telling the truth, watched silently as Candice was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter,” said attorney Robert Hilliard, who represents Anderson. “It took 10 years for GM to find its voice. How many district attorneys around the country are now wondering if they may have sent an innocent person to prison? I call on GM to double its efforts to find all victims of this defect. If there were others who were wrongfully prosecuted, GM should take affirmative and aggressive steps to have those convictions immediately overturned.”

In a written statement provided to the Wall Street Journal, GM said that culpability issues in an accident “are for local law enforcement and the courts to consider, and in a courtroom they are separate issues from the performance of the vehicle. That’s why we have taken a neutral position on Ms. Anderson’s case. It is appropriate for the court to determine the legal status of Ms. Anderson.”

Related coverage: “Ex-prosecutor seeks pardon for woman convicted after crash now linked to GM ignition-switch issues”

See also: “Over 100 died from GM ignition-switch issues, survivors claim”

Pando Daily: “GM’s hit and run: How a lawyer, mechanic, and engineer blew open the worst auto scandal in history”

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