Sentencing date reshuffled for Fairfield man convicted of deadly hit-and-run
Sentencing for a Fairfield man convicted last year for killing a 52-year-old man riding a bicycle in October 2021 on a Fairfield roadway has been paused and reset again, for late April.
Nadhir Muftah Ghuzi, 32, who appeared Friday for his previously scheduled sentencing in Department 11, heard Judge William J. Pendergast vacate the proceeding and reschedule it for 1:30 p.m. April 21 in the Justice Center in Fairfield.
The judge at that time also will rule on a motion for a new trial from Deputy Public Defender Jeannette Garcia, who defended Ghuzi during the nearly sixweek trial that ended in late August.
After deliberating for several hours, a jury found Ghuzi guilty on two counts — second-degree murder and hit-and-run causing injury or death — for hitting and killing Darryl L. Mitchell, a Vallejo resident who, while wearing dark clothing on Oct. 19, 2021, was riding a bicycle without reflectors at night on North Texas Street.
Ghuzi, who remains in Stanton Correctional Facility in Fairfield without bail, faces 15 years to life in state prison for the murder conviction and two to four years for the fatal hit-and-run, plus fines ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.
The guilty verdicts were a victory for Deputy District Attorney Jessica Morrell, who led the prosecution.
In her closing argument at the trial's end, Morrell said Ghuzi was legally drunk while celebrating his 31st birthday with a shot of liquor and beer. He got into his Nissan SUV, drove recklessly, and sped, as seen in videos recorded by the city's traffic surveillance camera system, knowing his actions could possibly kill someone, then struck and killed Mitchell and fled the scene, the intersection of North Texas and Wisconsin streets.
After his arrest at his residence, in the 1600 block of Glenmore Drive in Fairfield, Ghuzi was taken to the Fairfield Police Department, where he at first refused a blood test and a breath sample. However, when officers received legal permission to force a blood draw at 2:10 a.m. on Oct. 20, court testimony indicated his blood-alcohol content was .04%, well below the legal limit of .08%.
But, Morrell argued, Ghuzi was obviously driving drunk at the time of the 6:55 p.m. collision and reminded jurors he was estimated to be driving between 65 and 67 mph, as indicated by his vehicle's event data recorder, or EDR, sometimes called a car's “black box.”
The vehicle's EDR also revealed he did not brake, and Ghuzi's speed at the time of impact was a cause of Mitchell's death, she said.
On probation at the time, Ghuzi, added Morrell, exhibited “malice aforethought” by intentionally causing the collision and knew, because of a prior DUI conviction in 2019, his actions were “dangerous to human life.” At the time of his prior conviction, Ghuzi, she reminded jurors, acknowledged the Watson Advisement, a central element of her prosecution.
In California, all drivers convicted of DUI face certain mandatory sentencing requirements, among them the advisement, which, after a DUI court case leading to a conviction, allows murder charges to be brought in subsequent fatal DUI collisions when certain conditions have been met.
Under California law, second-degree murder is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being that is done without deliberation and premeditation, but with malice aforethought.