FORT WORTH, Texas – A jury took less than an hour Thursday to convict a former nurse's aide of murder for hitting a homeless man with her car, driving home with his mangled body jammed in the windshield and leaving him to die in her garage.
Chante Jawan Mallard (search), 27, looked down and cried silently as the judge read the verdict, which could bring a life sentence.
Later Thursday, at her sentencing hearing, Mallard tearfully apologized to Gregory Biggs' (search) son and her own family, saying her mind had been too muddled by fear and drugs to call for help.
"I couldn't think to do the right thing," she said, adding that she feared she would be arrested.
After a night of drinking, smoking pot and taking Ecstasy (search), Mallard ran into Biggs, 37, with her Chevrolet Cavalier as he walked along the side of a highway in the early hours of Oct. 26, 2001. He was hit with such force that his head and shoulders went through the windshield.
"When I hit him, it was a very loud noise," Mallard testified. "All this glass started flying in the car, followed by a lot of wind. And the glass was just cutting at my skin, stinging me."
She said she briefly got out of the car to try to touch Biggs, but panicked, got back in and drove home with his leg protruding from the windshield. She said she knew he was still alive.
"I didn't know what to do," she said. "I started screaming. I just started yelling."
She said Biggs moaned and his nearly severed leg was on the dashboard. She said she pulled into her garage and lowered the door, then cried and kept apologizing to Biggs.
Prosecution witnesses said Biggs probably lived for two hours, may have been moaning and gasping, and could have survived with medical treatment.
"She stole his life," prosecutor Richard Alpert said in closing arguments. "She stole his hope of anyone else saving his life. That's murder."
The defense acknowledged that Biggs lived for an hour or two.
Defense attorney Jeff Kearney argued she should be found guilty of failing to stop and render aid -- not murder.
Mallard, who testified for nearly two hours, said she deserves to be sentenced to prison but did not say for how long. She said her life had been in a downward spiral for several years before the accident and that she had been smoking marijuana several times a day, even while she worked in retirement homes.
The sentencing phase continues Friday morning.
The jury took 50 minutes to reach the verdict. Biggs' son, Brandon, and other relatives showed no emotion. On the other side of the courtroom, Mallard's family members, including her mother, wept and were comforted by friends. Both families declined to comment.
Mallard's friends and family testified at the sentencing hearing, seeking leniency from the jury, before she took the stand.
"I have ruined the lives of other people," Mallard said. "I have ruined my family's life. I have put people through pain.
"And I am so truly sorry. I'm so sorry, Brandon."
Mallard pleaded guilty earlier this week to tampering with evidence by burning the bloody car seat. She faces two to 10 years in prison on that charge.
Biggs' body was found in a park the day after the crash. Authorities thought he had been hit by a car but had no leads until four months later, when one of Mallard's acquaintances called police and said Mallard talked about the incident at a party.
Officers went to Mallard's house and found the bloodstained, dented car. They also found the passenger seat burned in the back yard.
The defense said Mallard's friend Clete Deneal Jackson talked her into dumping the body and concealing the crime.
Jackson testified that Mallard took him to her garage about six hours after she hit Biggs. He said he removed Biggs' body that night and, with the help of his cousin, Herbert Tyrone Cleveland, dumped it in the park.
Jackson and Cleveland pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and agreed to testify. Jackson received a 10-year sentence; Cleveland, nine years.