HALL COUNTY, Ga. - A jury in Hall County has found a man not guilty of homicide by vessel in a boating collision that killed two young brothers.
Paul Bennett was, however, found guilty on several charges of boating under the influence and reckless conduct when he collided with a pontoon boat on Lake Lanier on June 18, 2012. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison, 18 months probation and 340 hours of community service.
Jake and Griffin Prince, ages 9 and 13, died in the crash.
Bennett was also found guilty of reckless boating and failing to render aid.
Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh cited results of an alcohol breath test taken hours after the collision, which showed a .14, well above the .08 legal limit.
Defense attorney Barry Zimmerman said the breath test results on Bennett were questionable because they were taken hours after the crash, and were affected by swings of a Jack Daniels whiskey and coke that the defendant had when he went home. He said Bennett passed all field sobriety tests with the exception of those for which he had physical excuse.
"One should not be operating a boat in the condition he was in. Because of the condition he was in, he caused the deaths of these two young boys through this collision," Darragh said.
The district attorney also told the jury that Bennett and his girlfriend left then scene because he knew he was intoxicated and that the crash had been fatal.
"He does express some sorrow for the loss of children. A fact that he knew before he left that scene. He knew that because the mother of Jake and Griffin called out to him, 'you killed my babies.' I submit to you, that is why he left the scene. This is no legal accident. This is a drunken boating collision caused by Paul Bennett and he should be held responsible," Darragh said.
Eleven jurors reached the decision after the 12th juror was removed Thursday for allegedly looking online for details in the case.
“You should not consult dictionaries, reference materials, search the Internet websites or blogs,” a Hall county told the remaining jurors in the Paul Bennett case.
The judge asked Bennett if he agreed to having 11 jurors decide the case. Bennett said yes.
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