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Man found guilty in Fort Worth officer's death

FORT WORTH -- Samuel Lee Hilburn was convicted of intoxication manslaughter in the death of Fort Worth Police Officer Dwyane Freeto, who burned to death in a rear-end collision in Decemer 2006.

It took the jury of six men and six women two hours and 15 minutes to convict Hilburn, 22. The jurors also agreed that Hilburn used his Lexus as a deadly weapon in the crime, which means he won't be eligible for parole until half his sentence is served.

Hillburn, who had been free on bond, was immediately taken into custody.

The punishment phase will be next.

Earlier Thursday, defense attorney Okey Akpom tried several tactics to persuade jurors to acquit Hilburn of killing Freeto in the fiery rear-end collision in December 2006.

The prosecutors, Richard Alpert and Mark Thielman, said a string of witnesses backed by scientific evidence proved that Hilburn was guilty of intoxication manslaughter.

The jury began deliberating about 2:10 p.m. after three and a half days of testimony in Hilburn's trial in Criminal District Court No. 3. Jurors could have convicted Hilburn of either intoxication manslaughter or reckless manslaughter, both second-degree felonies with a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, or they could have acquitted him.

In closing arguments, Akpom suggested that Hilburn's blood was contaminated before tests showed that he had a .20 blood-alcohol level the night of the crash. He insisted that medication used to sedate Hilburn following the crash affected the blood-alcohol tests.

Akpom even contended that Freeto would not have died if his Crown Victoria cruiser had not caught fire as earlier models of the vehicles, when rear-ended, had done before being modified. "It was an accident," Akpom said. "We can't say with a clear concscience that all reasonable doubt has been excluded."

Alpert ridiculed Akpom's suggestion that the .20 blood-alcohol level was inaccurate. He pointed out that even defense expert Gary Wimbish supported the test results over the testimony of Hilburn's wife and friends that he was not intoxicated the night of the fatal crash.

"Science is more powerful than anything," Alpert said. "Science does not have bias, bad judgment or relationships. It's objective."

Alpert also disputed the notion that Freeto would not have died if he hadn't been sitting in his car on Interstate 35.

"When you penetrate a car six feet, what do you think is going to happen? It wasn't spontaneous combustion."

Alpert said Freeto died because he refused to leave a young woman stranded on the freeway with a flat tire.

"Because he acted as we hope our police will act, he leaves these three women alone," Alpert said, referring to a photograph of Freeto’s widow Karen and their two daughters Jenna and Jordin.

State District Judge Elizabeth Berry presided over the trial.