A jury has acquitted Jabari Kemp of a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge tied to his DUI manslaughter case in an April 2013 Riviera Beach crash that killed five.
The not guilty verdict means jurors in Kemp’s upcoming manslaughter trial likely wont get to hear details about a Palm Beach County sheriff deputy’s April 2013 traffic stop of Kemp in his Mercedes hours before it collided with a car carrying 14-year old Makita Campbell, 22-year-old Orane Cummings, 17-year-old Shonteria Grimsley, 17-year-old Christina Joseph and 22-year-old Jason Mahlung.
All five died in the crash. Kemp, who lives in Florida City, turned himself in two months later.
A police report indicated that initial blood tests revealed neither drugs nor alcohol in Kemp’s system, but a second test at a highway patrol lab showed high levels of marijuana in Kemp’s system — levels so high that investigators said Kemp likely was impaired.
In the misdemeanor case, the deputy who pulled over Kemp before the crash, saying he was driving at 90 mph, asked to search his car after he smelled a strong odor of marijuana coming from it.
The deputy placed Kemp in his squad car while he searched Kemp’s car and found no drugs. But he said that after he let Kemp go with a speeding ticket, he found a plastic bag containing marijuana — which he presumed was discarded by Kemp — in the back seat of his squad car.
Defense attorney Leonard Feuer told jurors that Kemp was never found with marijuana on him and the presence of a trainee at the traffic stop who stood close to the deputy’s patrol car while Kemp was in it would have made it virtually impossible for Kemp to have snuck the bag from his body without anyone noticing.
Feuer said the deputy failed to check his vehicle at the end of a previous shift and that someone from a prior stop could have left the marijuana there.
“It was a possession case, and the one thing that they could not prove was that he actually possessed the marijuana,” Feuer said.
After the traffic stop that night, Kemp was exiting northbound Interstate 95 and hit the 1994 Lexus driven by Mahlung eastbound on Blue Heron. The crash knocked the Lexus into the fence of the Ed Morse Honda dealership on the other side of the road.
Feuer said Kemp’s acquittal on the marijuana charge means prosecutor Judith Arco won’t be able to bring up the traffic stop to jurors expected to decide Kemp’s manslaughter case later this year.
Arco declined to comment on that issue, but said she didn’t believe Wednesday’s verdict would have any effect on Kemp’s manslaughter case.
“I certainly understand and accept the jury’s decision,” Arco said Thursday.