SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. – An amusement park manager was found guilty Monday of reckless homicide in the death of a woman who fell from a ride last year, but he avoided a murder conviction.
Charles Stan Martin (search) was originally charged with second-degree murder in the death of June Carol Alexander (search), 51, who died in March 2004 after her safety harness broke on the ride, sending her tumbling 60 feet to the ground.
Before beginning deliberations, the judge asked the jury to consider three charges — second-degree murder, reckless homicide or criminally negligent homicide. The jury took only two hours to reach its verdict.
Martin faces up to four years in prison when he's sentenced in July. He could have received up to 25 years in prison if convicted on the murder charge.
Alexander's husband, Richard Alexander (search), said he was pleased with the verdict.
"I think the jury did good," he said. "That's all I have to say."
District Attorney Al Schmutzer said the verdict shows the community has no tolerance for "jeopardizing people's lives when they innocently get on these rides expecting to have just a thrill, not a death."
Defense attorney Bryan Delius left the courthouse without commenting.
In closing arguments, Schmutzer said Martin short-circuited safety systems on the swinging gondola ride at the amusement park in Pigeon Forge because he cared more about selling tickets than protecting the lives of his customers.
"He played Russian Roulette with everybody who rode that ride," Schmutzer said.
Defense attorney Bryan Delius agreed the case was about "money over safety," but he said the responsibility fell on the ride's Italian manufacturer, Zamperla Inc.
The company "manufactured a ride that was junk," he said, adding that Zamperla representatives made some slapdash repairs to the ride when it premiered at two industry trade shows in 1998.
Prosecutors said amusement park officials stopped calling the manufacturer after the ride's warranty ran out — even after an Indiana man complained in July 2003 that his seat harness opened and he was nearly thrown.
Investigators also discovered two "jumper wires" in the ride's electrical system that bypassed its safety mechanisms, which were designed to halt the ride if a harness became unlocked.
Martin, 56, told the jurors he had not noticed the wires. Two engineering experts testified for the defense that the ride had a defect in its circuitry that prevented it from running without the jumper wires.
Alexander's family has sued Martin, the amusement park and the ride's manufacturer in federal court for a total of $96 million in damages.