Three judges deciding if man convicted of drunk driving murder in KC should get new trial

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- “You tell yourself, you know, the truth will set you free, and that’s what I’ve been holding onto,” said Angela Wolgamott, Drew Ryland’s mother.

Three judges are now considering whether a Jackson County man convicted of murder in a drunk driving crash, should get a new trial.  Drew Ryland is serving a 20-year prison sentence.  He was found guilty last year for slamming his SUIV into another car, killing its passenger Michael Hernandez.

The case could all come down to a single image and what it means:  was Drew Ryland in fact driving his own vehicle, when the deadly crash happened three years ago?

Outside the Missouri Court of Appeals Tuesday, a group was holding signs to support Drew Ryland.

“It’s been really frustrating, because you know, this isn’t my son’s demeanor.  This isn’t who he is,” said Wolgamott.

Her 28-year-old son is sitting in prison, convicted of driving drunk, hitting and killing Michael Hernandez at 31st & Grand in Kansas City back on September 20, 2014.

“From the get go we were like, this wasn’t Drew,” said Wolgamott.

Before the crash, police had chased Ryland’s SUV.  Dash cam video was played during the initial trial.  But it wasn’t until the same video was shown again at sentencing that Wolgamott caught something.

“I noticed there was a face in the mirror...It turns out that face in that mirror was not my son.  My son was not driving that truck that evening that caused the death of Michael Hernandez,” said Wolgamott.

So she hired attorney Keith O’Connor, who argued to the appeals court Tuesday that technology has advanced enough since the trial to make that dash cam image more clear.

The defense believes one of the other two people inside Drew Ryland’s car is actually the man in the mirror, and was driving when the deadly crash happened.

“It becomes immediately obvious that it’s a face and when you compare it against the mugshots, there are distinctive characteristics,” said O’Connor.

But prosecutors insist the pixelated images, which were not shown in open court, aren’t enough to set Drew Ryland free.

“I don’t see any obvious images in there that tell me this person, this driver is one person or the other,” said Daniel McPherson, Missouri assistant attorney general.

What is clear is the appeals process and potential of a new trial are devastating to the family of Michael Hernandez.  His mother is left to help raise her grandchildren and visit her son in a cemetery.

“This dude did it.  He decided to drive drunk.  He decided to get behind a wheel.  He’s trying to be a coward and blame it on someone else,” said Carmela White, aunt of Michael Hernandez.

They’re confident Ryland’s conviction will stand.

“Justice will be served.  He will stay and serve his time,” said White.

A three judge panel will now review all the evidence and motion for a new trial.  It could take anywhere from days to weeks, or even months, before they make a decision.