Jurors in Eli Webb case struggling over punishment

Posted at 11:39 PM, Feb 13, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-13 23:41:26-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)--A Richmond jury deliberated for about an hour and 40 minutes, trying to decide what would be a just punishment for Elias Webb, the 31-year-old ad executive they had just found guilty of felony hit and run.

Jurors in Richmond Circuit Court believed the prosecution, that Webb fled after knowing he struck  someone -  the victim was 24-year-old Lanie Kruszewski  - with his SUV at about 10:20 p.m. on July 29.

Kruszewski  died within seconds after she and her well-lit bicycle were struck as she pedaled up a twisty River Road hill after getting off work. Webb turned himself in later that week.

But jurors had difficulty agreeing on what to do next.

For full coverage of the trial, click here: Elias Webb hit-and-run case.

They were told the punishment could be no time or fine;  a fine of up to $2,500; jail time from one day to a year; jail time plus a fine; or from one year to 10 years in a state prison.

At 7:15 p.m., Judge Margaret Spencer called a recess until  Thursday morning after jurors sent out a question: What happens if they can’t agree on a sentence for Webb?

It was an emotionally charged trial, especially the sentencing phase, when jurors heard from both family and friends of the victim, and the accused.

The courtroom was basically divided in half, with Webb’s family and friends on the left, and Kruszewski’s family and friends on the right. Tears flowed from Kruszewski’s side as her loved ones shared what her loss has meant to them. Her mother said she can’t get the image of her daughter’s broken body slamming into the windshield out of her mind.

But there were even more tears, and sobbing, as Webb’s friends and family said what a fine, kind, soft-hearted young man he is, how sorry he is, how he wanted to reach out to Lanie’s family. Webb himself cried several times during this testimony.

Both the prosecution and the defense agreed that Webb is remorseful, that his life will never be the same again.

But prosecutor Colette McEachin said Webb has consistently tried to escape responsibility for what he did, first fleeing the scene and then trying to use the “Bambi defense,” that he thought he had hit a deer when other motorists clearly saw otherwise and stopped to render aid.

During her  closing arguments during the sentencing phase, McEachin asked the jurors to weigh justice for Lanie, that Webb will one day finish his punishment while she will be dead forever.

But defense attorney Craig Coolly told jurors that Webb isn’t charged with killing Lanie, just with leaving the scene of an accident. He reminded the jury of testimony indicating Lanie died within seconds of Webb’s Dodge Durango slamming into her - that if he had stopped and rendered aid, she would still be dead.

He also cautioned the jury not to punish Webb for Lanie’s death. There was no evidence that the collision on a narrow stretch of River Road was anything other than a tragic accident, he said. If he had stopped, he wouldn’t have been charged with anything, Cooley told jurors.

But McEachin  countered that no one knows what Webb would’ve been charged with if he had stopped. There was some evidence presented that Webb had had a few sips of beer and wine earlier in the evening - what if investigating officers found something more, McEachin asked.

Jurors are expected to resume deliberations Thursday at 9:30 a.m.