On July, 13, 2012, Kerry Kennedy woke up, enjoyed a breakfast of carrots and cappuccino, then took an Ambien and went for a drive. She would later claim that she had mistaken the Ambien for a thyroid medication she takes in the morning, but that wasn’t till after she ran into a tractor trailer and was so uncooperative when questioned by a highway officer, he thought she was having a stroke.
Here’s what you need to know about Kerry, and her incredibly important legal battle:
1. A Toxicologist’s Testimony Support’s Her Story
According to The New York Times, there is little disagreement between the prosecution and defense about what happened on the morning in question. The crux of the case appears to be whether Kennedy realized her mistake at any point during her drive, and nonetheless neglected to pull her vehicle over, thus willfully endangering other commuters. The prosecution maintains that Kennedy should have been able to identify the side effects of the drug early on, the defense countering that, in the Times summary: “If she did not have the judgment to know that she was swerving, she did not have the judgment to know that she was impaired, because the drug itself, by its very nature, would have made it impossible for her to make such a rational decision.”
On Tuesday, the prosecution called to the stand Elibaeth Spratt, director of toxicology for the Westchester County Department of Laboratories and Research.
Spratt testified that Ambien does have an “onset” period of about 15 minutes, during which some soporific effects could potentially be identified.
During cross-examination though, Kennedy’s attorney William I. Aronwald, read to Spratt from a United States Food and Drug Administration document that notes under the influence of similar medications “impairment in driving ability is often not recognizable to that individual.” Aronwald then asked Spratt, “As you sit here, you cannot say that her impairment in driving was recognizable by her?”
Spratt agreed that she was incapable of making that judgement.
Aronwald then asked for the case to be dismissed. The judge declined. Nontheless, the Times concluded:
“The day seemed to favor Ms. Kennedy, who strode out of Westchester County Courthouse in an upbeat mood.”
The legal principle at the center of the court case remains unclear to Heavy at present.
Is it actually the case that one cannot be found guilty of driving under the influence, so long as one didn’t know she was under the influence? Is the lesson that if you’re going to drink and drive, you better do so 100% shit-faced blackout?
2. She Invoked Her Father, Robert Kennedy’s Death In Her Testimony
ABC News reports that Kennedy invoked the name of her father and his tragic death within minutes of taking the stand on Wednesday:
“Daddy was the attorney general during the civil rights movement,” Kerry Kennedy said after taking the stand today, explaining to jurors why she grew up in Virginia.
“I have 10 brothers and sisters. My mother raised us because my father died when I was 8,” she said. Asked how he died, Kennedy said, “He was killed while running for president.”
Kennedy went on to testify that her cappuccino machine is extremely complicated, requiring a “15 or 20 step process” to produce some frothy joe, and in the midst of that process she mistook Ambien for Synthoid, the daily medication she takes for her under active thyroid. The defense presented the jury with pictures of the pills and their bottles, which did in fact appear quite similar. Kennedy said all she remembered of her morning drive was “thinking how beautiful the light was filtering through the trees at that hour,” before everything became jumbled.
She testified that she had denied having been in an accident when asked by a police officer, because she genuinely was not aware she had gotten into such an accident.
Before today’s testimony, the defense had focused on establishing Kennedy’s character, and history of morally upstanding, legal behavior. This line of argumentation often circled back to the fact she was working to fortify the legacy of her famous father, which led to the judge scolding the defense for reminding the court over and over that the defendant is the niece of a former president.
Gerakd Kefcourt, one of Kennedy’s attorneys replied: “She is not seeking any advantages here because of her famous family.”
Whether or not she’s seeking such advantages, she may have her family’s legacy to thank for being on trial in the first place.
The Times noted that this sort of victimless misdemeanor is normally bargained down to guilty pleas carrying fines. Instead, the prosecution has chosen to pursue a jury trial, and a potential sentence of up to one year in jail.
3. She Loves Human Rights
Kennedy established the RFK Partners for Human Rights in 1986, an organization that works to protect the rights codified under the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, by uncovering abuses such as torture, repression of speech and child labor, lobbying Congress to prioritize human rights in foreign policy, and supporting activists around the world with resources needed to advance their own human rights expanding initiatives.
She is author/editor of the book Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who Are Changing Our World.
4. She Cheated on the Governor of New York With a Polo Player
Kennedy married Andrew Cuomo, back when he was only the son of a governor, in 1990. Their wedding was met with excitement, particularly within the American elite, as it brought together two of the more powerful northeastern political families.
But 13 years and 3 children later the Cuomos suffered a messy split, which came in the wake of Cuomo’s failed campaign for governor in 2002.
When they announced their separation in July of 2003, Cuomo made it known that he had been betrayed by his wife. According to the New York Daily News “sources close to the couple said Cuomo had walked in on her tryst with a married man who has a home in northern Westchester County.”
That man turned out to be restauranteur and amateur polo player Bruce Colley. Colley and his wife Ann were personal friends of the Cuomos, and the two families had vacationed together in the past. The Colleys would later seperate.
5. She Believes Social Justice Is Central to Catholicism
Kennedy wrote and edited Being Catholic Now, a collection of essays by prominent Americans on their evolving relationships with their Catholicism.
She told Boston.com in a 2008 interview that the book was inspired by her personal crisis with the church’s myopic focus on reproductive issues and horrific enabling of pedophiles:
“My Catholicism informed my view of the world, and the work that I do every day on social justice issues. And yet, so often when I went to church, I was confronted with words and symbols that were anathema to my values. I was in a, for many years, in a northern Virginia parish which didn’t allow girls as altar servers, and in which every Sunday, in the midst of horrendous poverty, and living in a world where a billion people live on less than a dollar a day, the only thing we seemed to be praying for was that women would stop having abortions.”
She went on to explain that she nonetheless sees the church as a critical institution for promoting social justice, cataloguing the good she saw the church achieve in the various countries her work as a human rights activist brought her to:
“And then I worked in El Salvador and Guatemala, Mexico, all of these places during the 80s when there was so much violence, and when the church again was just this tremendous sanctuary, and where Archbishop Romero, for instance, really led, was the spiritual force behind so much of the movement for freedom. And again, in Korea, South Korea, where the combination of the Catholic church and other Christian churches gave sanctuary, strength to the democracy movement there.”