Aimee Michael left fiery debris in her wake, say prosecutors and defense attorneys. Then she returned home and worked with her mother to convince a mechanic to fix up the mangled BMW that triggered the April 2009 chain-reaction crash.
"This case is so simple. You know that Aimee Michael is guilty. You know she caused this crash because that is what the evidence showed you," said Tanya Miller, a Fulton County prosecutor. "She fled. She ran. She left those people burning. What innocent person would do that?"
The jurors deliberating Michael's case Wednesday are likely to sentence her to prison time regardless. Even Michael's attorney Scott Smith flatly told them to find her guilty of six counts of hit-and-run and one count of tampering with evidence, charges that could land her behind bars for years.
But the case boils down to whether the jury convicts her of causing the wreck and finds her guilty of five counts of vehicular homicide, one count of serious injury and several related charges that can carry decades of prison time. And Smith told jurors that there's not enough evidence to prove Michael is to blame for the accident.
"There are serious gaps in the state's case. Those gaps are as clear as day," said Smith, who contends that tire marks show Michael's car was sideswiped by another vehicle. "You're now being asked to put together a puzzle but you might not have all the tools to do it."
Michael borrowed her parents' BMW to go on a quick errand to pick up vanilla ice cream. The car switched lanes on a busy four-lane road in south Atlanta and crashed into a Mercedes carrying Robert and Delisia Carter, their newborn son, Ethan, and Delisia's 9-year-old daughter, Kayla.
Both cars were forced into oncoming traffic, where Tracie Johnson and her daughter, Morgan, 6, were returning from church in a Volkswagen Beetle that belonged to their pastor. Johnson was driving it as a favor to him, Miller said at the trial.
The four passengers in the Carters' vehicle were killed in the fiery crash, and the collision with the Volkswagen left Morgan Johnson dead. Her mother, Tracie, survived but broke her legs, hip and collarbone.
When police arrived to gather evidence, witnesses told them the BMW fled, and for almost two weeks authorities searched in vain for the vehicle. They didn't focus on Michael until they received a tip from a neighbor who noticed her acting suspiciously, Miller said.
A SWAT team soon surrounded her family's home in south Atlanta, and she was arrested and charged with five counts of vehicular homicide, along with six hit-and-run counts and several other charges. She could face more than 130 years in prison if convicted.
Her mother, 52-year-old former school teacher Sheila Michael, also faces prison time for her role in the cover-up. She pleaded guilty last week to two counts of tampering with evidence and hindering the apprehension of a criminal. She is to be sentenced after her daughter's trial is finished.
As jurors prepared to deliberate Michael's face, Miller slowly flipped through pictures of the five victims. She reviewed the evidence with them one last time, and urged them not to buy Michael's "insulting" argument that another car caused the collision.
"Why she veered out of her lane, we will never really know," she said. "No one was able to evaluate her. We just know she did it."
Smith, though, urged the jurors not to get emotionally invested in the case as they debate the charges.
"They are falling back on the oldest trick in prosecutor's book: focusing the attention on the emotion of the case," he said. "Just like you remove a coat and take it off and hang it up, remove your emotion - let it out."