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MECHANIC ABSOLVED IN DEATH; MAN WHO SHOT T.O. TEEN NOT GUILTY OF INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER.

Byline: Don Holland Daily News Staff Writer

Simi Valley auto mechanic Edward Drake plans to spend the next five years on the open sea after a jury broke a deadlock Thursday and acquitted him in the slaying of a teen-age acquaintance.

``I'm glad to be out of here,'' Drake said, just moments after being released from the Ventura County Jail. ``I'm tired. I just want to go back to the boat and have my cat sit in my lap.

``I think I just want to put it behind me,'' he said, wearing a rumpled flannel shirt and dirty blue jeans. ``It's just a tragedy. It's a tragedy all the way around. Like my attorney said, bad things happen to good people.''

Jurors acquitted Drake, 51, on Wednesday of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Leonard Coppola, 17, of Thousand Oaks, but said they were deadlocked 11-1 on the less serious charge of involuntary manslaughter.

The judge ordered jurors to resume deliberations, and they delivered the acquittal Thursday morning.

Drake put his hand over his eyes and wept as Superior Court Judge Kenneth Riley read the not-guilty verdict.

Coppola's family, already crushed by Wednesday's acquittals, cried in anguish and disbelief.

As the judge thanked the jury for its dedication, Coppola's stepfather, Thomas Kestly, laughed sarcastically and said loudly, ``I don't think so.'' While the judge was still talking, Kestly walked out of court, cursing Drake and making an obscene gesture.

Drake later said Kestly's reactions were understandable.

In a written statement, Coppola's mother, Maggie Kestly, said she was reluctant to go to court Thursday because of the acquittals the day before.

``However, I am here today to let Drake know that I know he is guilty of murdering my son. Not only do I know it but God does, as well. He shot an unarmed, innocent teen-ager for no reason without regard for human life.

``That is a fact and the jury's verdict doesn't change that. The truth is that my son - behind a locked, gated fence - was never a threat to Drake.''

Drake told authorities he was asleep in his shop Oct. 10, 1997, when he heard a noise outside. Fearing a burglary, he armed himself and went outside to investigate. He fired at the figure in the darkness, realizing later that it was Coppola, an acquaintance who was retrieving a trailer from the locked yard in back of Drake's shop.

Jury foreman David Coe said during their six days of deliberations, the six-man, six-woman panel repeatedly re-enacted the events leading up to the shooting.

``The key element as we saw it in involuntary manslaughter was (whether) there was criminal negligence,'' Coe said. ``And it pretty much boils down to: Would a normally prudent person have acted in the same way? That is not to say, would a normally prudent person act normally and prudent given that situation. But might he have reacted in that same way?

``We felt in the broad spectrum of the universe that, yes, there are people we consider normally prudent who would have reacted the same way. We struggled with that. We obviously struggled with the devastation of losing a young kid like this in a situation like that.

``It was not easy to walk into that court knowing that a death has occurred and that the family has to live with that,'' said Coe, 57, of Simi Valley.

Coe, who has served five times as a jury foreman, also said he was ``very troubled'' by the lack of elaboration of alcohol tests that showed Drake had a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 at the time of the shooting.

The jury was similarly disappointed in the crime scene and forensic evidence, he said, although those issues were not critical to the verdicts.

Deputy District Attorney Bob Calvert said he was disappointed in the verdict. Defense attorney Stephen Hogg was elated but also saddened by the tragedy of Coppola's killing - an emotion he said he shared with Drake.

``He cried a little bit when the verdict was read and then he turned to me and said, I feel so bad for that woman, referring to the mother of the victim,'' Hogg said. ``And that's the Ed Drake I know . . . We went in the back and hugged and cried together.

``He said I've never been so scared in my life,'' Hogg said. ``I said, Neither have I.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 5, 1999
Words:734
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