A 45-year-old Pleasant Valley man convicted in a fatal boating crash has asked for a new trial.

On April 26, a jury trial found James W. Thiel Sr. guilty of two charges of involuntary manslaughter by conduct likely to cause death.

Thiel Sr. will be sentenced for the aggravated misdemeanor charges on Aug. 13 in Scott County Court, court documents say. A jury convicted Thiel Sr. of the charges – each of which could bring up to two years in prison – for unintentionally causing the deaths of Craig Verbeke, 61, and Dr. Anita Pinc, 52.

During the trial, Thiel Sr. said his son, James Jr., who was driving the boat, was “absolutely not” racing during the incident, and is an experienced boater. “He’s always in control of the boat,” he said.

Request for a new trial

In documents filed June 8 in Scott County Court through Thiel Sr.’s attorney Leon Spies, Thiel Sr. says the trial court erred in overruling his motion for judgment of acquittal made at the close of the prosecution’s evidence, and again at the close of all the evidence, and that there was insufficient evidence to warrant the submission of this cause to a jury.

“The evidence and inferences arising from the evidence, even viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, were insufficient to warrant a rational trier of fact finding the Defendant guilty of the crimes alleged in the information,” court documents claim.

“The jury’s verdict in this case was contrary to the weight of the evidence,” documents allege, saying a “serious miscarriage of justice” occurred.

Thiel Sr. alleges the court erred in overruling the defendant’s objections to lay and expert opinion testimony that he was operating his boat recklessly or that his conduct was unsafe, documents say. “Such testimony constitutes expressions of legal conclusions and were of no assistance in determining factual issues,” documents say.

On June 29, 2021, Thiel Sr. requested in a motion to produce and inspect the identity of “any person whom the State expects to call as an expert witness at trial, or whom the State expects to elicit opinion testimony,”
and “[a]ny and all data generated by the procedures and used to reach said opinions, including any accident reconstruction or simulation.”

After the trial, Thiel Sr.’s attorney learned that on Oct, 6, 2020, the prosecution received from Department of Natural Resources Officer Travis Graves an accident diagram portraying Graves’ assessment of the course of the Bayliner and Triton boats involved in the fatal collision giving rise to the Thiel Sr.’s prosecution and conviction, documents allege. The diagram also represents the location of other watercraft in the vicinity at the time up to and leading to the collision.

On Dec. 10, 2020, Graves also provided the prosecution with a diagram again portraying Graves’ reconstruction of the path of the Bayliner and Triton boats and the vicinity of other watercraft on the Mississippi River at the time of and prior to the fatal collision. The Dec. 10, 2020, diagram was characterized by Graves as being “based on compilation of GPS data, physical boat damage, and eyewitness statements.”

“Although both the October 6 and December 20, 2020, diagrams were in the possession of the prosecution prior to trial, neither was disclosed to the defense until after trial,” documents say.

Thiel Sr. contends that the prosecution suppressed favorable evidence, and the evidence was material to the determination of his guilt, documents say.

“Moreover, both of the undisclosed diagrams are inconsistent with the diagram in Graves’s final investigative report of May 10, 2021, about which he was examined during the course of trial, and about which the defense’s expert witness testified as well,” documents say.

“There exists a reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceeding would have been different,” documents say. “In addition, the prosecution’s suppression of the diagrams emailed to it in October and December, 2020, adversely affected the Defendant’s trial preparation and strategy.”