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Driver in SXSW crash guilty of capital murder, sentenced to life in prison

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Austin American-Statesman, Laura Skelding/AP

Rashad Owens has been found guilty of capital murder in the South by Southwest festival car crash that killed four people and left dozens injured in 2014, the Austin news station KXAN reported Friday.

Because the state did not seek the death penalty, the verdict means Owens, 23, will automatically be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

It took a Travis County jury less than four hours to find beyond reasonable doubt that Owens “acted knowingly that his conduct was reasonably certain to cause death” when he drove his vehicle the wrong way on a one-way street, crashed through a barricade, and barreled into a crowd of festivalgoers on March 13, 2014.

The defense had argued that Owens was unfamiliar with Austin, didn’t know where he was going, and had little time to react to pedestrians. “We do not know in that one to three seconds when he perceived ‘Oh my God, these are people,’ or if he ever perceived it,” defense attorney Rickey Jones said during closing arguments, according to KXAN.

The prosecution countered that the sounds of colliding with people should have been enough to stop Owens. “Any rational human being, the minute you hear the sounds, you either brake or let off the gas,” prosecutor Marc Chavez said, according to the news station. “You certainly do not floor it even faster.”