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Jurors hear opening statements in 2020 crash that killed Gainesville teen
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Shannon Beauford sits in Hall County Superior Court Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, during the first day of his vehicular homicide trial. Beauford is charged with first degree vehicular homicide in the October 2020 wreck that killed 17-year-old Madison Gray, of Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

Previous story: With the driver’s side door unusable, Shannon Beauford crawled over his 17-year-old passenger to exit the Toyota Corolla he wrecked on White Sulphur Road, according to the prosecution.

Beauford faces two counts of first-degree vehicular homicide and one count of second-degree child cruelty from the Oct. 4, 2020, wreck that killed Madison Nicole Gray, 17, of Gainesville.

A jury heard opening statements Tuesday, Jan. 10, in Beauford’s trial concerning the early morning single-vehicle wreck.

“His actions that early morning led to the senseless and tragic death of Madison Gray, actions that he needs to be held responsible for,” Assistant District Attorney Hannah Hensley told the jury.

Hensley said Gray was heading home in the backseat of the car driven by Beauford. Authorities believe Beauford went off the road, striking a culvert and rotating.

“The defendant ended up turning around and crawled out through the backseat over Madison and exited through the back passenger door on the driver’s side,” Hensley said.

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Madison Gray's photo is shown Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, in Hall County Superior Court during the first day of the Shannon Beauford vehicular homicide trial. Beauford is charged with first degree vehicular homicide for the October 2020 wreck that killed Gray. - photo by Scott Rogers

Gray’s cause of death was blunt force trauma to the torso, causing internal bleeding and a laceration to her liver, the assistant district attorney said.

In her opening statement, defense attorney Janet Smith-Taylor implored the jury to pay attention to the things that are and are not said by the witnesses. She and co-counsel Karen Pass have focused their attention on the investigative avenues not explored by law enforcement.

“They were judging a book by its cover, like a lot of people do,” Smith-Taylor said. “They didn’t fully investigate this.”

Smith-Taylor reiterated the fact that the onus of proof remains on the state to prove that Beauford was the driver.

Pass filed a motion in August to continue the case for time to have DNA samples tested.

Pass argued in the motion that two crucial pieces of evidence — blood and hair on the driver’s side windshield and hair on the driver’s side headrest — were not going to be tested.

“The identity of the person driving the vehicle is the central issue on the charges related to vehicular homicide,” Pass wrote. “The DNA evidence is critical to his defense of these charges.”

Deal signed a consent order days after the motion for the samples to be tested.

The prosecution’s early witnesses included the responding Hall County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Sgt. John Morgan, who detailed the wreck reconstruction.

Using a toy model GTO Judge, Morgan demonstrated for the jury how the Toyota slid and rotated on the road.

“The driver didn’t do anything to avoid it,” said Morgan, noting there were no brake marks or evasive steering marks at the scene.

Morgan estimated that Beauford was driving somewhere between 75 to 80 mph, while the speed limit is 35 mph.

The sergeant said there was no evidence that Madison was the driver.

After testing, the blood on the steering wheel came back to Beauford, and his injuries to the left side of his face were consistent with him being in the driver’s seat, Hensley said.

The crash data retrieved from the car revealed that the driver was not wearing a seatbelt and that nobody was in the front passenger seat, Hensley said.

The trial will continue Wednesday.

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Assistant District Attorney Hannah Hensley makes an opening statement Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, in Hall County Superior Court during the first day of the vehicular homicide trial of Shannon Beauford. - photo by Scott Rogers
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Shannon Beauford sits in Hall County Superior Court Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, during the first day of his vehicular homicide trial. Beauford is charged in the October 2020 wreck that killed 17-year-old Madison Gray, of Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers