A Hancock County jury deliberated little more than an hour on Friday before finding Eugene Butler Jr. guilty of manslaughter in the June 25, 2016 death of 19-year-old Vanessa Mauffray.
The trial began Monday in Hancock Circuit Court with Judge Lawrence Bourgeois presiding.
"This defendant ran over and killed 19-year-old Vanessa Destiny Mauffray" with his boat, Assistant District Attorney Chris Daniel told the jury during closing arguments Friday, due to "culpable negligence," and "willful indifference to the sanctity of human life."
Vanessa and her boyfriend, Ryan Necaise -- now 28 -- were in a small boat setting crab traps on Bayou Caddy when Butler, 47, of Bay St. Louis, allegedly ran head-on into their skiff with his 20-foot fishing boat. Vanessa died from her injuries hours later at Memorial Hospital in Gulfport.
The prosecution began its case on Monday, hearing testimony from Necaise, who said Butler was not paying attention and his boat was moving too fast for him to take evasive action.
"First responders, including officers with the MS. Department of Marine Resources (DMR) arrived at Bordage’s marina where they found the victim had been injured in a boating crash," according to a statement issued by District Attorney Joel Smith after the verdict Friday. "Eyewitness Ryan Necaise, testified that he was driving a boat, setting crab traps with the victim Mauffray when a boat driven by Butler went over the top of his boat, striking Mauffray. Necaise testified for the jury that he saw Butler’s boat come around the bend on the wrong side of the bayou. Necaise testified that he tried to move his boat closer to the bank to get away, but Butler’s boat stayed on the wrong side. As Butler’s boat got close, Necaise saw that Butler was not at the wheel of his boat and was looking behind him toward the back of the boat. Necaise stated that when Butler finally turned around to face forward there was nothing anyone could do. Necaise stated that upon impact, Butler’s boat went over the top of his, fatally injuring Vanessa Mauffray and sinking their boat."
Butler was piloting his boat under the influence of marijuana at 25-35 mph when he came around a bend in bayou caddy on the wrong side and was looking away working on the boat's engine when he hit the skiff, fatally injuring Vanessa, Daniel told the jury Friday; then when Butler saw the skiff in the water ahead, he failed to try to avoid the crash.
"Deadly decisions, deadly actions, deadly consequences," Daniel said.
Daniel recounted Vanessa's father Stacy Mauffray's tearful testimony earlier in the week: "You can tell he's still wounded from his daughter's death. … He told you he was still reeling from her loss."
"Those were deadly decisions (Butler) made that day," Daniel said. "Not one, not two, but several deadly decisions that resulted in the death of a 19-year-old girl."
Daniel also recounted the testimony of Mississippi Department of Marine Resources investigators Deputy Brett Morreale, Deputy Mark Barraclough, Officer Daniel Boyer, Inv. Michael Strickland and Sr. Msgt. Patrick Carron, who had testified earlier in the week about Butler's impairment and reckless boating.
"There is no excuse for the decisions made out there that day …," Daniel told the jurors. "Today, it's about justice. Justice for Vanessa. Use your common sense. Hold (Butler) accountable. This was not a normal day. 19-year-olds are not supposed to die on Bayou Caddy. We should hold him accountable for his actions."
In his closing arguments, Butler's attorney Michael C. Hester tried to poke holes in the prosecution's case. Hester started at the beginning of the case, calling Necaise's testimony about the events leading up to the crash "hogwash."
Hester said Necaise's skiff was out in the middle of the bayou, rather than in his own lane, when the crash occurred; and that Necaise was also traveling at a high rate of speed, rather than the two or three miles per hour he had recounted in his testimony.
Hester also pointed to the testimony of the expert witnesses he had called to the stand earlier in the week, who had recreated the crash scene, saying Necaise's skiff was in the middle of the bayou, and that Butler had not been impaired by marijuana at the time of the crash.
The incident "could hot have happened the way (the prosecution) said it did," Hester said.
"Accidents do happen …," Hester said. "What happened (the day Vanessa died) is a horrible tragedy, but it's a straight-up accident."
Assistant District Attorney Crosby Parker, prosecuting the case with Daniel, objected four times to Hester's comments. Bourgeois sustained each objection. Parker argued that Hester was repeatedly bringing up conjecture and alleged evidence that had not been addressed during the course of the trial.
In a brief rebuttal, Parker said that Hester had used the perfect word in his closing arguments -- "hogwash."
"That's what he said in his opening statement," Parker said. "I can't think of any word that is more appropriate to describe" Hester's entire case.
After the jury handed down its verdict Friday, Bourgeois had Butler remanded into custody. He set a sentencing date of Oct. 14.
Butler has two prior felony convictions and could serve up to 20 years in the Mississippi Department of Corrections for Culpable Negligence Manslaughter.