Breaking: Jury finds Alabama fan not guilty of manslaughter in 2010 football death

jmonk@thestate.comFebruary 5, 2013 

Updated 3:30 p.m.

The man on trial in the 2010 death of a University of South Carolina football fan may have been found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter, but he will still be spending the next 5 years behind bars.

Richland County Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein sentenced 27-year-old Curtis Simms to 5 years in prison and 3 years of probation after a jury found him guilty of breach of peace of a high and aggravated nature Tuesday.

The conviction stems from an incident in the hours after the Gamecocks 2010 football victory over Alabama, where 20-year-old Adam Martin Gasque was run over by a friend's truck after Simms punched him to the ground.

Simms was also charged with involuntary manslaughter in Gasque's death, but the jury found him not guilty of that charge Tuesday.

Goodstein technically handed down a 10-year sentence, but she suspended the first 5 years Simms would have had to spend in prison. Simms will also be required to attend substance abuse and anger management counseling as part of the sentence.

Updated 2:26 p.m.

Curtis Simms, the man accused of causing the death of a 20-year-old fan after a 2010 Gamecocks football game, was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter Tuesday afternoon.

The 27-year-old, however, was found guilty of breach of peace for his role in an incident after the team's historic 2010 win over Alabama that ended in the death of 20-year-old Allen Martin Gasque. Simms is expected to be sentenced by Judge Diane Goodstein in the next few minutes on the charge, and could face as many as 10 years behind bars.

Gasque was killed when he was run over by a friend's truck after being knocked to the ground during an altercation in traffic with Simms.

12 a.m.

A Richland County jury deliberated for an hour late Monday afternoon but reached no verdict in the involuntary-manslaughter case involving a University of South Carolina football fan who was run over and killed during a violent confrontation in traffic after a 2010 football game.

The decision by Judge Diane Goodstein to send the jury home means the trial, which began Jan. 29, will go into its sixth day today. The jury begins deliberations at 9:30 a.m. at the Richland County courthouse.

Curtis Simms, 27, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and breach of the peace of a high and aggravated nature. If convicted of both charges, he could get up to 10 years in prison. Simms, 27, was accused of unintentionally causing the death of Allen Martin Gasque, 20, in a confrontation in congested traffic near Williams-Brice Stadium after a USC win over Alabama.

Before Simms and Gasque had their deadly clash Oct. 9, 2010 — which lasted less than a minute — the two had never met.

During the trial, undisputed evidence showed Gasque died on Shop Road after Simms punched him at least once, with Gasque then falling underneath the pickup truck he had been riding in and, within seconds, being crushed when the pickup truck started up and ran over him.

Simms decided Monday not to take the stand in his own defense. Goodstein instructed the jury not to consider Simms’ lack of testimony in any way.

“The burden of proof is on the state,” Goodstein said to jurors.

The trial has offered a look into the world of the high passions that can surround college football as well as the heavy drinking by young people that often takes place during tailgating parties in parking areas around Williams-Brice before, during and after games.

The trial also featured testimony from Simms’ friends, who included former USC football players Dustin and Jordin Lindsey, former running back Mike Davis and Marque Hall. They were with Simms at the time of the incident and testified as defense witnesses during the trial.

Both Gasque and Simms — neither of whom actually attended the game — had been drinking significantly at their respective tailgating parties outside the stadium, where they watched the game on television and socialized, according to trial evidence.

Simms had 10-15 beers and three Jell-O shots ; Gasque had a blood alcohol content of 0.23, roughly three times the legal evidence limit of impairment, according to testimony.

Gasque was a USC fan; Simms was an Alabama fan. According to the defense’s case, Gasque was a passenger in a pickup truck driven by a friend, Adam Paxton, and was calling out the window, razzing Alabama fans and cheering with USC fans.

In closing arguments Monday afternoon, lawyers for prosecution and defense stressed their separate versions of the case.

“Martin Gasque did not have much of a chance, being 5-10 and 168 pounds,” said Fifth Circuit Assistant Solicitor Luck Campbell, walking over to the defense table and pointing to the seated Simms, whom Campbell said was “6-3 and 285 pounds.”

“This wasn’t a fight — this was an assault,” Campbell said, noting that witnesses testified that Simms’ punch had knocked Gasque unconscious. Gasque then slid down in the roadway and, within seconds, Gasque’s friend, Paxton, started to drive the pickup to the side of the road, crushing Gasque.

Although Campbell conceded that Simms did not intend to kill Gasque, she likened Simms to a person who pushes another person off the platform of a New York City subway station onto the tracks just before a train pulls into the station.

Although Paxton drove the pickup that ran over his friend, he was not at fault, Campbell told the jury.

“Blame the victim! Blame the driver! Everybody is at fault but Curtis Simms,” Campbell said.

Campbell also noted Simms’ actions immediately after Gasque was crushed — he ran from the scene, peeling off a red Alabama polo shirt and a black Alabama hat. Within a minute, she acknowledged, Gasque did tell a police officer what had happened and came back to the scene.

“He knew he was guilty ... all Curtis Simms had to do was to stay in his vehicle and none of this would have happened,” Campbell said.

Simms’ attorney Johnny Gasser portrayed it as a freak accident that his client couldn’t have foreseen — and certainly didn’t intend.

“This is two young men after a football game, acting carelessly,” Gasser told the jury, reminding jurors that some defense witnesses had testified that Gasque instigated the incident by making an obscene gesture at Simms and making derogatory statements about Alabama.

“Curtis Simms did not kill anyone,” Gasser told the jury. It was only after Simms hit Gasque, and Gasque went down, that Paxton started up the truck and ran over his friend — even as Simms banged on the truck to try to stop it, and tried to pull Gasque out of its path, Gasser said.

“If it wasn’t foreseeable to Adam Paxton that he would run over and kill his friend, then how was that foreseeable to Curtis Simms?” Gasser asked.

Other evidence indicated that Gasque had put his hands on Simms first, and “if you are going to get assaulted, you have a legal right to use force first,” Gasser said.

“A verdict of not guilty is not a sign of weakness,” Gasser said. “It is an act of courage.”

During the trial, witnesses disagreed whether Gasque was inside or outside his pickup truck when Simms punched him and how many punches were thrown. However, all witnesses said Simms hit Gasque at least once, and that Gasque did not hit Simms. Some witnesses also said Gasque put his hand up and may have touched Simms’ chest.

The incident happened as Paxton and Gasque were driving down Shop Road in traffic, celebrating the USC victory by calling out to fans who were walking and driving along the road.

About a block from the State Fairgrounds, the two encountered a pickup truck with Simms and his friends in it. That truck, driven by Dustin Lindsey, was trying to get onto Shop Road. Simms now lives in Columbia but is originally from Alabama.

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