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Jury weighs Kerry Kennedy's NY drugged-driving case; deliberations set to resume Friday

FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2014 file photo, Kerry Kennedy leaves Westchester County courthouse in White Plains, N.Y. Deliberations are due to resume Friday, Feb. 28 in Kennedy’s drugged-driving trial. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

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FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2014 file photo, Kerry Kennedy leaves Westchester County courthouse in White Plains, N.Y. Deliberations are due to resume Friday, Feb. 28 in Kennedy’s drugged-driving trial. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. - Both sides in Kerry Kennedy's drugged-driving trial agree she didn't mean to take a sleeping pill before she set out for the gym, veered into a truck and ended up slumped and disoriented at the wheel. But jurors now must decide whether she realized she was impaired and so should have pulled over.

Deliberations were due to resume Friday in Kennedy's trial, where questions about the effects of the sleeping drug zolpidem are at the forefront. The six-person jury asked for a brief readback of expert testimony during roughly 45 minutes of deliberations Thursday in a court in suburban White Plains.

Kennedy, a daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and the ex-wife of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was arrested in 2012 on a misdemeanour charge of driving while impaired. She had driven her Lexus wildly on a highway, sideswiping a tractor-trailer, blowing one of her tires and yet continuing to the next exit, witnesses testified.

Blood tests showed a small amount of zolpidem, sometimes sold under the brand name Ambien. Kennedy, 54, said she'd accidentally taken it instead of her daily thyroid pill, and she testified that she had no idea how it was affecting her as she drove. She said she had no memory of even being on the highway.

Prosecutor Doreen Lloyd disputed Kennedy's account, suggesting in a closing argument Thursday that the human rights advocate ignored the onset of symptoms because "she had a schedule to meet."

And while Kennedy took the pill by mistake, "she is responsible for the chain of events that happened after that," Lloyd said. She insisted zolpidem works gradually, saying Kennedy's testimony "belies the science of this drug."

Mocking the title of one of Kennedy's own books, Lloyd urged the jury to "speak truth to power."

But defence attorney Gerald Lefcourt said there was no evidence — and it made no sense to believe — that Kennedy was aware, while driving, that she'd taken the pill.

"Accidents are not crimes," Lefcourt said.

With Kennedy's mother, Ethel, and other relatives in the front row, Lefcourt said Kennedy was "not seeking advantage because of her family."

The trial is "not a TV call-in program," he said. "This is an American court."

Earlier Thursday, Lefcourt brought up a 2013 New England Journal of Medicine article saying that people who take zolpidem "frequently do not recognize their impaired state."

It would be even more difficult for someone who didn't know he or she had taken the drug to understand what was going on, clinical pharmacologist Dr. David Benjamin told jurors. He said he was involved in testing zolpidem as the manufacturer sought federal Food and Drug Administration approval in the 1990s.

Lloyd countered that the article concerned impairment the morning after a night's sleep, not impairment before sleeping.

Kennedy could face up to a year in jail if convicted, although that would be unlikely for a first-time offender.

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