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Defense article to back Kennedy testimony

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Kerry Kennedy (file photo) Kerry Kennedy (file photo)

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) -- The defense at Kerry Kennedy's drugged-driving trial has introduced a medical journal article that appears to bolster her testimony. The August 2013 New England Journal of Medicine article said data showed that people taking the sleeping pill zolpidem "frequently do not recognize their impaired state."

The article's conclusion was read from the witness stand Thursday by Dr. David Benjamin, a clinical pharmacologist.

Final witnesses and possibly closing arguments are expected Thursday.

The prosecution's toxicology expert testified earlier in the week that she doesn't know whether Kennedy would have realized she was driving erratically after taking a sleeping pill.

The testimony from Elizabeth Spratt, director of toxicology at the Westchester County Department of Laboratories and Research, did not seem to help the drugged-driving case against Kennedy, ex-wife of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

It touched on what appears to be the main point of contention: whether Kennedy, who says she accidentally took an Ambien instead of a thyroid pill before getting into her Lexus, should have recognized the effects of the pill and pulled over before she swerved into a tractor trailer in 2012.

Defense attorney William Aronwald asked Spratt if impairment after taking the Ambien ingredient zolpidem is "often not recognizable" by the driver. Spratt said, "Yes." Then he asked if Spratt could say Kennedy's impairment "was in fact recognizable by her."

"I don't know if she was aware," Spratt said. However, she would not go so far as to agree that Kennedy definitely felt no effects.

Spratt also acknowledged the possibility of "sleep driving," which she defined as, "You're driving without being aware that you're driving."

She said the drug's effects include sleepiness, poor motor coordination and headaches. It can also cause amnesia, meaning that many people don't remember much after they've taken Ambien, she said.

Spratt testified on the second day of Kennedy's trial in White Plains.

The prosecution rested right after her testimony, and the defense immediately moved for a dismissal, saying no evidence of a crime had been presented. State Supreme Court Justice Robert Neary denied the motion.

The defense case opened with two character witnesses. The Rev. Gerard Creegan, a family friend, said he's known Kennedy since 1975 and had been to Kennedy family gatherings including "weekends at the Cape." He said Kennedy had helped him with human rights work in the Dominican Republic and was "very honest" and "very sober."

Kennedy's younger sister Rory Kennedy, a documentary filmmaker, then took the stand and said the 54-year-old Kerry Kennedy "has a stellar reputation for honesty." She said she also has "a reputation for sobriety and general healthy living."

The Kennedys' mother, 85-year-old Ethel Kennedy, was in court for the second day.

Outside court, it was suggested to defense attorney Gerald Lefcourt that prosecution testimony was going his way.

"I think so, too," he said. "I hope the jury will agree."

He said Kerry Kennedy is likely to testify Wednesday.

Earlier Tuesday, a state trooper testified that Kennedy passed several sobriety tests at a police station a few hours after she failed most tests with another officer at the accident scene.

Trooper Bradley Molloy said Kennedy told him she might have accidentally taken the sleeping pill, but he felt "The defendant was not impaired by any drug" at that point. He said he thought she might have suffered a seizure or stroke.

___

Associated Press Writer Jim Fitzgerald contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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