Driver in 2018 fatal crash pleads guilty to second-degree murder

Driver in 2018 fatal crash pleads guilty to second-degree murder
Driver in 2018 fatal crash pleads guilty to second-degree murder

A plea deal has been reached in a 2018 fatal crash case before heading to a second trial.

Theresa Gafken, 41, agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder for the death of 48-year-old Kristine Donahue. In exchange, the St. Clair County Prosecutor’s Office agreed to drop charges for fleeing police and operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

More: Michigan Supreme Court overturns conviction in Camaro driver’s second-degree murder case

Gafken pleaded guilty during a plea hearing Friday. The hearing was held on the last day St. Clair County Senior Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer Smith Deegan worked as a prosecutor before beginning her term as the 31st Circuit Court’s new probate judge.

Gafken was arrested in April 2018 after she crashed into Donahue’s car while driving at 100 mph while fleeing from police. She was initially found guilty after a jury trial and sentenced in October 2018 to between 20 and 30 years in prison.

Gafken ran a red light at the intersection of 24th and Dove Streets, hitting three other vehicles and causing multiple injuries. Donahue died at the scene.

The conviction was overturned in 2023 by the Michigan Supreme Court. The court ruled in a 4-3 decision that Judge West had improperly prevented the defense from arguing Gafken was acting under duress. Gafken has said she was being threatened by a passenger in the car. During the 2018 trial the prosecution argued, however, that the other passengers in the car had told Gafken to stop the car while fleeing from police.

Since the jury verdict was overturned, a new trial has been delayed multiple times as Gafken switched attorneys and both sides discussed evidence rules to avoid a third trial. According to court records the plea deal was reached on April 30.

A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for 1:35 pm June 17 in the 31st Circuit Court. Second-degree murder is punishable with up to life in prison.

Contact Johnathan Hogan at [email protected].

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