Austin Personal Injury Blog

The Curious Case of James Fulton: Car Accident or Criminal Negligence?

Posted By The Stewart Law Firm, PLLC || 29-Mar-2019

On May 14, 2016, James Fulton (40) left On the Border, a popular Tex-Mex restaurant in Tyler, at 9:30 p.m. after enjoying 7-8 drinks with a few friends. Less than a mile away, Haile Beasley, a recent college graduate, checked her phone while waiting for a stoplight to turn green. A witness, Kirsten Woodard, later testified that Beasley was still on her phone when she started driving. An instant later, Fulton’s white pickup truck crossed three lanes of traffic before slamming into Beasley’s car head-on.

The Accident Aftermath

When law enforcement officials arrived on the scene, Fulton was still in his overturned pickup truck, confused but mostly uninjured. Feet away, police officers and firefighters struggled to extract Beasley’s body from her wrecked vehicle. Fulton started sobbing when an officer revealed she had died upon impact.

Fulton told the officers that the accident occurred because he was trying to avoid a deer. After admitting that he indulged in a few drinks throughout the day, the officers conducted three field sobriety tests – Fulton passed them all. However, Fulton refused the blood alcohol test because he knew that it could only harm his case. Detective Gregg Roberts declined to secure a search warrant for the blood draw because he didn’t believe that Fulton was intoxicated. When the on-site investigation wrapped up, Fulton went home with a ticket for failure to maintain a single lane. Detective Roberts had the duty of notifying Haile Beasley’s family about the tragic collision.

The Beasley Family Strikes Back

The Beasley family was wracked by despair and frustration over how their daughter’s case was handled. Local media programs made headlines out of the story, but it still didn’t bring a sense of justice or closure to the grieving family. According to Beasley’s parents, Jennifer and Brian, there is no reason Fulton would cross over two lanes unless he was intoxicated or driving recklessly.

While Texas leads the nation in annual traffic fatalities, there’s an unfortunate legal gray area that impacts countless negligence cases. Per Texas law, it’s illegal to drive with a BAC level of .08% or higher, and drivers can be held criminally responsible for fatal wrecks if they test above that limit. However, Detective Roberts never completed a blood alcohol test and concluded the investigation report by writing: “This case does not appear to meet the threshold for a criminal prosecution.” While Fulton was deemed inarguably at fault for the accident based on “driver inattention,” his actions didn’t warrant criminal charges.

While Fulton was relieved to hear that his case was closed, the Beasley family was enraged. They felt that Fulton’s friends shouldn’t count as reliable witnesses. They hired a lawyer and filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

During Fulton’s deposition, he admitted that he was at-fault for the accident and did, indeed, drink 7-9 beers before the collision. Interestingly, when the Beasley’s lawyer, Chad Parker, told Fulton that he may face criminal prosecution just for making that statement, Fulton said he understood, but still believed that the crash was purely an accident.

The two parties settled the case for $1 million, but the Beasleys were still incensed that it was Fulton’s insurance company that supplied the payout – Fulton once again avoided facing any tangible consequences for his actions. They took Fulton’s damning deposition to Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham, who has a history of being brutal when it comes to prosecuting criminals. Attorney Bingham promised to do everything he could to bring justice to their daughter.

After a thorough investigation, Attorney Bingham determined that Detective Roberts made a mistake in not obtaining a warrant for the blood draw, and he planned to take the case straight to the Grand Jury.

The Jury’s Verdict

After Fulton was charged with criminally negligent homicide, the District Attorney’s office offered him five years’ probation in return for pleading guilty. However, he refused to accept guilt for the accident because he understandably didn’t want to have a felony listed on his criminal record.

The trial last three days. While Fulton’s lawyer focused on proving his client’s case didn’t constitute criminally negligent homicide, the prosecutors focused on the fact that Fulton had been drinking before the collision. Attorney Bingham added that Fulton didn’t even need to be intoxicated to be guilty in this scenario: “I don’t care if there’s a deer there…The fact of the matter is, he took his eyes off the road…hit a girl and killed her.” Fulton’s case wasn’t helped when a dashcam video showed him referring to Beasley as “the dead woman.”

As the trial progressed, Fulton’s wife, Audrey, became increasingly concerned as she watched the prosecution ostensibly assassinate her husband’s character. In her opinion, it wasn’t fair that they couldn’t use the city’s custodian of records as a witness. This person could have explained to the jury that countless citations are issued because people mistakenly drive into the opposing lane of that deadly S-curve. To her disbelief, the jury found Fulton guilty of criminally negligent homicide and ruled that he utilized his vehicle as a deadly weapon.

During the punishment phase of the trial, the state called Kirsten Woodard to the stand. Not only did Woodard watch the accident occur in person, she also works as a bartender at the Cascades country club – the very same location where Fulton played golf before the accident. Woodard revealed a devastating allegation that ruined Fulton’s hope: Fulton returned to Cascades weeks after the crash to drink with friends again, for all intents and purposes proving his lack of remorse. “Where’s the regret?” Bingham asked Fulton. “If you’re back out at the Cascades after you killed her, doing the same thing you did when you killed her?”

The jury sentenced Fulton to ten years in prison, the maximum sentence.

Audrey Fulton Proves Woodard Lied Under Oath

Audrey Fulton wasn’t convinced by Woodard’s testimony based on the following facts:

  • Her husband stayed away from Cascades after the accident, and he wasn’t even a member of the club; he could only get in with the help of his friend, Mark Warren.
  • Woodard claimed that Fulton paid for drinks with a credit card, when the Fulton family agreed to only use cash in light of their bankruptcy case.
  • There is no way Woodard could have recognized Fulton since the media never aired or posted a photo of her husband.

Audrey called Mark Warren, who confirmed that he never took her husband back to the club. Warren then called the club’s general manager, who explained that the District Attorney’s office subpoenaed records months ago that show Fulton never used a credit card before or after the accident. In fact, the general manager had emailed the DA’s office and clearly stated that Fulton never returned to their location. The state possessed evidence that contradicted Woodard’s testimony, and failed to turn the email over to the defense.

Fulton’s lawyer filed a motion for a new trial, claiming that the state committed a “Brady violation” by withholding evidence. However, the judge ruled in the state’s favor, forcing Audrey to file grievances with the State Bar of Texas. She declared, “The state has lied, concealed, cheated, and done anything necessary to seek a conviction…rather than do their job and seek justice.” Within weeks, Audrey was rallying a movement against her husband’s conviction and the entire Smith County justice system.

James Fulton’s case as of 2019:

  • Fulton is currently still imprisoned
  • Fulton’s attorneys have filed an appeal
  • In light of the grievance, District Attorney Bingham returned in January
  • In February, the State Bar dismissed the grievance
  • The prosecutor who failed to hand over evidence now has his own practice

Discuss Your Case with a Qualified Legal Representative

James Fulton’s situation is proof that there is no such thing as a “simple” or “standard” case. Even lawsuits or criminal cases involving minor traffic collisions can be influenced by mitigating factors, unexpected contingencies, and countless regulations and legalities. The Beasleys and the Fultons are both suffering due to the circumstances of the situation and the mistakes of the court.

If you are interested in pursuing a personal injury or wrongful death claim, contact the experienced and trial tested attorneys at The Stewart Law Firm, PLLC. Our legal team has a thorough understanding of state and federal laws, and can use this knowledge to help you pursue a positive case outcome that provides you with justice and compensatory damages.

Contact The Stewart Law Firm, PLLC at (512) 271-5112 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.

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