A Fresno man will stand trial for a hit-and-run that seriously injured a 9-year-old boy who was hailed a hero in Fresno Superior Court for pushing his younger brother out of harm’s way.
Judge Jonathan Conklin’s ruling Wednesday upset the family and friends of Danny McClain as well as his lawyer, Miles Harris, who contend McClain was at a birthday party at Kearney Cooley Plaza apartments when 9-year-old Deshaun Mitchell was stuck by a white sport utility vehicle at Martin Luther King Boulevard and California Avenue in southwest Fresno around 6:35 p.m. Jan. 22. Deshaun suffered a broken leg, bruised lungs and swollen head.
Police arrested McClain, 28, on Feb. 11 after a tipster said his vehicle was involved in the crash. Since his arrest, McClain has been locked in Fresno County Jail on the felony hit-and-run charges as well as for violating his probation stemming from his no-contest plea in May 2014 to possession of drugs for sales. He also has a pending drug case, court records show.
Judge Jonathan Conklin found “sufficient probable cause” to order Danny McClain, 28, to stand trial on two felony counts of hit-and-run and hit-and-run causing serious injury to 9-year-old Deshaun Mitchell.
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Conklin made his ruling after hearing testimony from several witnesses, including police Detective Brandon Lyon and Deshaun, at McClain’s preliminary hearing. In announcing his decision, Conklin said he only had to find “sufficient probable cause” to order McClain to stand trial on two felony counts of hit-and-run and hit-and-run causing serious injury. At trial, it will be up to a jury to decide the case using the higher legal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge said.
Police said Deshaun pushed his brother out of the way of an oncoming white GMC Yukon traveling east on California Avenue. McClain drives a white Yukon.
But Harris said not one witness identified a white Yukon as the vehicle that struck the boy. Instead, witnesses described the vehicle as a pickup, a Dodge Durango, a Chevrolet Blazer and a Chevrolet Tahoe, Harris said.
When police showed a photo of McClain’s vehicle to a woman who saw the hit-and-run, she was 100 percent sure it was involved, the judge said.
But when the woman testified in court, she wavered slightly in her identification of the vehicle, said Conklin, who chalked it up to her being nervous. Her identification was enough to convince him that it was McClain’s SUV, Conklin said.
Conklin said a grainy video of the hit-and-run shows a white SUV involved in the crash. “It was not a Durango or a pickup,” the judge said.
In addition, evidence from McClain’s cellphone puts him in the area of the crash, and McClain told police that he was the only person driving his SUV that day, Conklin said.
This was a rush to judgment.
Defense attorney Miles Harris
But Harris said there was no definitive proof that the SUV in the video belonged to McClain. He also said the cellphone evidence means little because McClain was in the area at a birthday party. Three witnesses testified Wednesday that McClain was at the party when Deshaun was struck. One of them, Janay Maynard, testified she provided investigators with a photograph of McClain at the birthday party and text messages that showed he was at the party when the boy was hit.
In addition, Deshaun testified that no one in the courtroom resembles the driver of the SUV that hit him, Harris said. Deshaun even got off the witness stand so he could have a better look at McClain and the others in the courtroom, but the boy didn’t change his testimony, Harris said.
Deshaun also wasn’t sure whether a Yukon hit him, Harris said.
“Deshaun was being honest. He was not confused on the witness stand,” Harris told the judge.
Harris said once police got the tip about McClain, they focused on him without doing any follow-up investigation with witnesses at the birthday party.
“This was a rush to judgment,” Harris argued, noting that police did not record McClain’s statements to detectives or that of key witnesses. “Police picked him and never wavered.”
Harris also took a shot at the prosecution, saying there needs to be more evidence “and not a convenient conviction based on a hunch.”