Trial by Computer

At about 2 a.m. on March 13, 1983, a 1972 Ford sedan crashed into a concrete wall near the Henry Hudson Parkway. The impact sheared off the entire right side of the vehicle and caused the car to “fus[e] itself” to the wall. Four teenage passengers died in the collision, but the driver – 18-year-old Michael McHugh – was rushed to the hospital with injuries to his chest, kidneys and wrist.

McHugh went to trial in 1984 for four counts of second-degree manslaughter as well as drunk driving. The court split the charges into two trials, fearing blood test results supporting the drunk driving charge would prejudice the jury in regard to the manslaughter charge. 

McHugh’s defense asserted that he was not drunk, was not speeding, but was rather the victim of bad weather, which caused him to swerve and hit an electrical box, which caused a flat tire, which caused him to slam into a concrete abutment hard enough to rip off the car’s entire right side. In an effort to substantiate their account, defense attorneys recruited a technology expert who reenacted this version of the crash on a computer, marking the first time in New York’s state history that computer evidence was admitted at trial.

The jury acquitted McHugh of manslaughter but convicted him of reckless driving.