Judge clears evidence for former NASA astronaut’s trial after deadly crash killed two Alabama girls

Published 7:19 am Thursday, September 10, 2020

Alabama prosecutors can use evidence collected by police after a former NASA astronaut crashed into another car while driving on a rural road more than four years ago, killing two girls, a judge ruled.

Jurors can hear that one-time space shuttle pilot James Halsell told police about drinking wine at a motel hours before the crash in June 2016, and prosecutors can use evidence found in the room during a search, Tuscaloosa County Circuit Judge Allen W. May Jr. wrote in an order.

Prosecutors can’t use anything from an earlier glimpse of the motel room by state trooper who briefly opened the door and looked inside, the judge said.

Charged with reckless murder, Halsell was set to go on trial this year before the coronavirus pandemic erupted. No trial date is currently set, but Judge May ruled Aug. 31 on an attempt by the defense to exclude some evidence against Halsell, 63.

Halsell, of Huntsville, was arrested after a car crash killed two sisters, 11-year-old Niomi Deona James and 13-year-old Jayla Latrick Parler, near Tuscaloosa. The girls’ father, who was driving a car that was rear-ended by one driven by Halsell, and a female passenger were injured.

Authorities contend Halsell was under the influence of alcohol, but the defense has blamed the wreck on sleeping medication.

Halsell, who is free on bond, flew five shuttle missions before retiring from NASA in 2006. He went to work in the aerospace industry after leaving the agency.