The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has refiled third-degree murder charges against a woman accused of fatally striking two Pennsylvania State Troopers and a third man after a judge dismissed those counts following a day-long preliminary hearing that included multiple witnesses, videos, and presentations.
Jayana Webb, 22, is accused of fatally hitting Troopers Martin Mack III and Branden T. Sisca, along with Reyes Rivera Oliveras, 28, with her car on I-95 in the early morning hours of March 21. Webb, of Eagleville, was charged with third-degree murder for the three deaths, but on Wednesday, Municipal Court Judge Karen Simmons dismissed the three murder counts.
Webb still faces charges that include homicide with a vehicle, involuntary manslaughter, and homicide with a vehicle with DUI. Simmons set Webb’s bail at $600,000 — $200,000 for each case. Webb had been in custody since her arrest.
On Wednesday evening, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office said prosecutors had refiled the third-degree murder charges, with a hearing date on the refiled charges not yet set.
Wednesday’s hearing lasted all day, with Assistant District Attorney Jessica Chung calling nine witnesses. Webb arrived shortly before 10 a.m. wearing a black sweater, white blouse, black pants, and white shoes, her hair braided.
The courtroom was packed with friends, family, and supporters of Webb on one side, and a crowd of Pennsylvania State Troopers clad in their gray uniforms on the other. Among Webb’s supporters were women wearing shirts from Reuniting Family Bail Fund, an organization that advocates for criminal justice reform.
Mack’s and Sisca’s wives, Stephanie and Brittany, sat in the front row, feet away from Webb. Occasionally, each of the widows would march out of the courtroom, overcome by emotion. The hallway was also lined on either side with state troopers.
For nearly eight hours, Chung and Webb’s attorney sparred over what became the most pertinent question, relating to Webb’s murder charges: whether there was malice.
Richard Cohen, a forensic toxicologist who analyzed blood samples taken from Webb, said her blood alcohol content was 0.211, more than twice the legal limit, at the time of the crash. The active components of marijuana were also identified in Webb’s blood, he said.
Pennsylvania State Trooper Mark Gibble, a computer crime investigator with the state police, testified that tweets posted on accounts associated with Webb around the time of the crash came from the phone that was taken from her at the scene.
Gibble’s analysis also showed that the phone went from traveling 81 miles per hour to a full stop seconds later. The time of one tweet also coincided with the time of the fatal crash.
A video of the fatal strike was also shown in court Wednesday. It was the first time Webb had seen it, and defense attorney Michael Walker said that Webb broke down in tears, not saying anything to him. For Walker, playing the video in court was unnecessary.
“She was unaware of what she hit,” said Walker. “She was told she hit these people. But to actually see it takes you back to that day and the fact that ‘Oh my gosh, this is real. I hit these people and they’re dead.’ You gotta feel for her. Certainly you feel for the family. But you feel for her that she caused this accident.”
In closing arguments, Walker said that the fatal crash was merely ordinary negligence and recklessness on Webb’s part. Though he changed his testimony in court Wednesday, one witness had initially told police that it appeared that Webb pressed the brakes before fatally hitting the three men, Walker said.
Walker pointed to that, along with citing case law that had demonstrated “malice” in fatal crashes, to show that Webb did not display “wickedness.”
“That is not hardness of heart,” Walker said in court Wednesday
But according to Chung, the fact that Webb continued speeding, even after the two troopers had pulled her over in a traffic stop and told her to drive carefully, was proof that there was malice.
“She was warned just a few minutes before the crash,” said Chung.
“She ignored them,” she added. “And this terrible crash is a result of that.”
Outside the courthouse, Walker said Wednesday afternoon that he was relieved by the murder charges being dropped. At the time, the District Attorney’s Office had not yet announced their refiling of said murder charges.
“Based on the law, it shouldn’t have ever been charged as a murder case,” Walker said. “It was an accident. It was an accident. And I’m so happy and hopeful that she’ll be able to go home and talk to her family. We still have a long way to go. There are a lot of charges still left. And those charges are extremely serious and at the end of the day we still have people that perished. But today, we’re happy.”
Staff writer Robert Moran contributed to this article.