Verdict leaves victim's mom questioning justice system

LEBANON, N.H. (WCAX) "You know, kids are kids, but my daughter didn't drink, she didn't do drugs, she loved her job, she loved her friends," said Jennifer Rhodes, Michelle Fenimore's mom.

Rhodes says her daughter was the most generous person she has ever known. Tragically, the 20-year-old's life was cut short in September 2017 after a head-on collision in Croydon, New Hampshire. Fenimore's passenger, Nicholas Carpenter, 18, was also killed in the crash.

Police say Kristin Lake, 23, of Sharon, was at fault and evidence presented at trial that showed Lake had been drinking before getting behind the wheel. But after an eight-day trial, Lake was found not guilty of the charges. Her defense raised doubts about which driver crossed the centerline and suggested Fenimore may have been distracted behind the wheel.

It's an outcome that has rocked this mom's faith in the system.

"When someone throws out a possibility that someone might have been texting although there was no evidence of that," Rhodes said.

Lake's team did not dispute the fact she had been drinking. She registered a blood alcohol content of 0.114 after the crash. Instead, they spent most of their time focusing on who caused the crash, pointing to the physical evidence at the scene. That's despite the fact that Lake told police she fell asleep behind the wheel, crossed over the centerline, and woke to a horn and lights coming at her.

Chief Richard Mello and the Lebanon Police Department were not a part of the criminal investigation.

"You know, I have seen a lot of cases go in front of the courts over the years that have not gone our way. And not because of lack of good police work or dedicated investigators but because of the way the system is set up," Mello said.

Fenimore's phone was another crucial element for the defense. She had just gotten a new one and Lake's lawyer said she could have been on it at the time. Both sides disputed whether there were outgoing texts. The phone was never sent to a lab for forensic analysis.

"The accidents that we do see, a large portion of those and I believe at this point the majority of those accidents are distracted driving-related," Mello said.

A factor that may have raised reasonable doubt with the jury. But exactly what happened that deadly night will never be known.

"That is certainly the difficult part of this case. It sounds like the victim in this case, the deceased, is not able to provide that information," Mello said.

And a mom is left wondering about justice as she continues to mourn the loss of her daughter.

"I miss her every day and I think about the things she won't experience and the things I am missing out on as a mom. I'm devastated," Rhodes said.

Jurors were not told to consider lesser charges. According to the Sullivan County attorney's office, the decision was made to charge solely with negligent homicide given the seriousness of circumstances and the deaths resulting.

Now that the case is resolved, Lake cannot be charged with any additional crimes related to the crash.