Jacob Heil, 21, sits at his own trial on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. Heil is charged with reckless homicide and DUI after his involvement in a crash which killed 4-year-old Marco Shemwell in Lexington, Ky.

Jacob Heil, 21, sits at his own trial on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. Heil is charged with reckless homicide and DUI after his involvement in a crash which killed 4-year-old Marco Shemwell in Lexington, Ky.

Photo via WKYT pool video footage

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Marco Shemwell’s death: Former UK student on trial

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After about eight hours of deliberation Thursday, a jury acquitted a former University of Kentucky student of reckless homicide in the 2018 death of 4-year-old Marco Shemwell, who was hit by a car outside Kroger Field.

Jacob Heil, 21, could’ve faced one to five years in prison if he was found guilty of reckless homicide. The jury convicted Heil on a DUI charge and Fayette Circuit Judge Lucy VanMeter subsequently imposed a $500 fine.

“Jacob Heil today got a tremendous gift from this jury, and I pray that he uses it wisely,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn said. Red Corn said prosecutors respected the jury’s verdict after the four-day trial but they also respectfully disagreed.

The fatal crash happened on Sept. 15, 2018. Marco was leaving a University of Kentucky football game with his father, Ben Shemwell, and his brother, Maximo Shemwell. The Shemwells were walking on Cooper Drive and were waiting to cross the street when Marco was hit by Heil, then 18, who was driving after attending a party earlier in the day.

Heil’s attorneys successfully argued that Heil wasn’t at fault for the crash because Marco was in the road. Heil’s defense team also told jurors Heil was not impaired even though his blood-alcohol levels exceeded the legal limit.

“This is not something where there are any winners in this case,” said Chris Spedding, Heil’s attorney. “We’re very glad that the jury saw it for what it was: an accident.”

The crash happened just before 2 p.m., according to court testimony. Heil told police he drank two beers at a frat party that morning but thought he was fine to drive. His blood-alcohol content was 0.038 when a blood sample was drawn after he was arrested on suspicion of DUI. The legal limit for anyone under 21 is 0.02.

Dr. Gregory James Davis, a doctor at UK who testified in court, determined Heil’s blood-alcohol content would have been approximately 0.061 or higher at the time of the crash.

Witness testimonies were conflicting, but a Lexington police investigation found that Heil’s car partially left the lane he was driving in on Cooper Drive. His tire veered over the white line at the edge of the road, but he didn’t drive onto the grass next to the street, according to officer Greg Marlin. Marlin evaluated damage on Heil’s car plus tire marks at the scene.

Marco was in the street when he was hit, according to Marlin’s investigation. Marlin said there would have been “clearance” space for Heil to avoid hitting Marco if Heil had been driving correctly in the center of the lane.

Prosecutors tried to argue that Heil veering out of his lane was a sign of impairment and he should’ve been able to avoid the collision if he wasn’t driving while intoxicated.

Heil’s level of intoxication was also a point of contention. Heil’s defense team didn’t dispute that Heil drank beer the day of the crash.

Lexington police officer Brandon Muravchick, who arrested Heil on a DUI charge, testified that Heil showed signs of intoxication and impairment on multiple field sobriety tests, including a “walk and turn” test, and a “one-leg stand test.” Heil also made errors when Muravchick asked him to list a portion of the alphabet.

But multiple witnesses — who weren’t police officers — testified that Heil didn’t have slurred speech and he wasn’t stumbling. Multiple witnesses said Heil seemed fine to drive a car that day.

“You would think that if he was impaired, one of them would’ve said ‘you know, he looked pretty unsteady,’” said Steve Schroering, one of Heil’s attorneys.

Prosecutors said Heil didn’t need to show physical signs of impairment in order to be impaired. His ability to safely drive a car could’ve been diminished without him slurring his speech or stumbling when he tried to walk.

“The defense wants to characterize this case as a horrific, tragic accident,” Bryant said. “But that’s not what this is. … This was avoidable.”

This story was originally published October 14, 2021 8:00 PM.

Jeremy Chisenhall covers breaking news for the Lexington Herald-Leader and Kentucky.com. He joined the paper in 2020, and is originally from Erlanger, Ky.

(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)

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