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Texas woman cleared in death caused by GM ignition switch

A Texas woman who pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in the death of her fiancé in a 2004 accident involving a General Motors Saturn Ion, since recalled as part of a probe into faulty ignition switches, has won a reversal of her conviction.

Candice Anderson, who was seriously injured in the crash in East Texas, asked a Texas judge at a hearing today to find her innocent, citing new evidence that a defect was to blame for the crash.

“The court finds she has proven her innocence,” District Judge Teresa Drum in Canton said after reviewing more than 60 exhibits provided by Anderson’s lawyers. Drum entered an order of acquittal.

GM is facing a wave of lawsuits over faulty ignition switches, which could slip out of the “run” position, shutting off the engine and safety features like airbags while the car is being driven. The company initially linked the defect to 13 deaths, including Anderson’s fiancé Gene Mikale Erickson. That number has since grown to at least 35.

Anderson was driving the day Erickson, 25, was killed when the vehicle crashed into a tree near Tyler. She was charged with intoxicated vehicular manslaughter and pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of criminal negligent homicide. Anderson had trace amounts of Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug, in her system, according to court papers.

She pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in October 2007, five months after GM had conducted an internal review of the case and quietly ruled its car was to blame. She served five years of probation and paid more than $10,000 in fines and restitution.

Anderson wasn’t responsible for the accident or her fiancé’s death, Bob Hilliard, her lawyer, told Drum at today’s hearing. Hilliard said GM’s recalls of almost 2.6 million vehicles for ignition-switch flaws showed the defect was to blame.

“The real culpable defendant has acknowledged it was their vehicle and not any conduct by Ms. Anderson that caused the death of Gene Mikale Erickson,” Hilliard said.

There were no skid marks and no air bag deployment in the accident, which is evidence of a connection to the defect involved in the recalls, Hilliard said.

In a letter to Hilliard, provided to the court, GM lawyer Richard Godfrey confirmed the crash that killed Erickson “is one in which the recall condition may have caused or contributed to the frontal airbag non-deployment in the accident.”

General Motors has taken a “neutral position” on Anderson’s request for acquittal, spokesman Jim Cain said in an e-mail.

“Issues being discussed in this case are for local law enforcement and the courts to consider, and in a courtroom they are separate issues from the technical performance of the vehicle,” Cain said.

Chris Martin, the Van Zandt County district attorney, said the criminal case against Anderson would never have been brought had prosecutors known about the ignition-switch defect.

“Our decision was made very easily,” Martin said of his support for Anderson’s acquittal. “Had the DA’s office known about the information from GM it would have made a significant impression on the grand jury and in light of it, it would have not brought this case.”

Anderson had gone through a decade of believing she caused Erickson’s death, Hilliard said in an interview. The conviction also “prevented her from applying for jobs she wanted,” he said.

“It’s the ultimate relief,” Anderson said today after the hearing. “I never thought this day would come. This has caused me a lot of grief over the years.”

This article includes material from The New York Times.

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