Click the video above to hear the entire phone call from Gabrielle Nestande to her mother and sister.
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“I am never drinking again,” is what Gabrielle Nestande told her sister from jail on May 27, 2011.
Nestande made the call after she was arrested at the State Capitol, where she worked as a legislative aide for former Rep. Wayne Christian. Prosecutors say in the early morning hours, Nestande fatally struck 30-year-old Courtney Griffin with her vehicle on Exposition Boulevard. Nestande, an Orange County native, now faces charges of manslaughter, intoxication manslaughter and failure to stop and render aid. She has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The court heard an audio recording of the jail house call, while jurors read along with a transcript. Nestande places the call to her mother and says, “Mom, I am in jail.”
Her mother tells Nestande she is planning to fly to Texas with her father. Then Nestande’s younger sister, Francesca, picks up the phone and says they are getting her the "best attorney there is."
“How drunk were you?” Francesca asks. Gabrielle replies, “I know what happened.”
Gabrielle is distraught on the call, repeating she couldn’t believe she was in jail.
“"The fact that you have nothing on your record. The fact that you have all these people that can say nothing about you, that is going to help you out," Francesca told her sister. “We have been talking to attorneys and they say you are the perfect girl, everyone knows it, that is going to help you out."
As the call was played in court, tears began to fall from Nestande’s eyes for the first time in almost two full days. Family members of the victim also became upset, some of them getting up to leave.
Nestande's statements on the call contradicted three days of testimony from her boyfriend and friends, who were with her the hours leading up to and after the accident. All of them testified to not remembering how much Nestande had drunk, and to the then 23-year-old not realizing she had hit a human being.
The court heard from Nestande's acquaintances, Rachel and Mary Helen Trippet, who were the first witnesses to testify Nestande was drunk at the bar.
Both said they saw Nestande and her boyfriend, William Marchbanks, leave Clive Bar on Rainey Street sometime after 11 p.m. They said Nestande was stumbling and having trouble walking, so much so that everyone at the table commented on her behavior, one of the sisters describing her as "sloppy."
The Trippet sisters didn’t come forward with what they saw until October 2012, more than a year after the accident. They both said in hindsight, they wish they would have alerted police sooner.
Before this, much of Thursday’s testimony was focused on Nestande's boyfriend William Marchbanks’ continued denials of remembering what happened the evening before Griffin's death. He incited sighs from the courtroom audience for his repeated statements that he has no idea how much Nestande drank.
What Marchbanks did recall was that Nestande drank one beer and one shot, which he bought for her. When asked whether she had more than the two drinks, Marchbanks’ answer remained the same--he couldn’t remember.
At one point, Assistant District Attorney Alison Wetzel asked Marchbanks if he suffered from “significant memory problems.” Marchbanks said his poor memory of the evening
was due to his own intoxication.
Attorney Roy Minton (left) and defendant Gabrielle Nestande (right)
Wetzel explained to the jury Marchbanks has received immunity from prosecution. Some months after the accident, he hired an attorney and only spoke to police through that lawyer. He would only agree to more interviews with the district attorney’s office after he was granted immunity.
Marchbanks said he wanted the immunity because he had drank too much that evening, but nevertheless drove home.
Holes in Marchbanks’ interviews with police began to emerge under Wetzel’s questioning. Particularly, a phone call Nestande made to Marchbanks shortly after leaving his apartment the morning after the crash.
During a police interview a month after Griffin’s death, Marchbanks said Nestande told him over the phone that she knew she had hit a person and “could not get the image out of her head.”
In court Thursday, the 27-year-old said Nestande had called to say she was worried about the damage to her car and telling her father. During this call, Nestande said the word “deer” out of the blue, according to Marchbanks.
Wetzel asked if Nestande sounded hysterical on the phone. Marchbanks replied, “I don’t know what you mean.”
“You went to Baylor University, I assume you know the definition of hysterical,” Wetzel answered.
Marchbanks said Nestande was upset during the phone call.
Marchbanks also admitted to being untruthful with prosecutors when he told them he had had no contact with Nestande’s defense team. In court, he admitted to speaking with defense attorney Perry Minton when Nestande was in jail.
Prosecutors presented more surveillance video from Clive Bar. It showed Nestande, dressed in a pink dress with her hair in a ponytail, embracing a friend and then appearing to lose her balance before hugging Marchbanks. Wetzel said this appears to indicate Nestande was intoxicated, but Marchbanks said she was not acting out of the ordinary.
“So does she always stumble and stagger like that when she walks?” Wetzel asked. At another point she asked Marchbanks if Nestande “had any balance or inner ear problems.”
Marchbanks' testimony remained firm that Nestande was not acting out of the ordinary in the footage.
Jurors also saw Marchbanks and Nestande taking a shot just after 11 p.m., about an hour and a half before the accident. After taking the shot, Nestande is seen putting her arm around Marchbanks and swaying back and forth.
Wetzel asked Marchbanks again if it seemed like Nestande was losing balance and if it looked like her behavior changed after the shot. He said he couldn’t recall because he was intoxicated by that point.
Testimony continues Friday morning. If convicted, Nestande faces 2 to 20 years in prison each manslaughter charge, and 2 to 10 years for failure to stop and render aid.