Feb. 28, 2014 -- Kerry Kennedy was acquitted today of driving under the influence of Ambien and promptly said she was "incredibly grateful" for the verdict.
After four days of testimony at a trial in White Plains, N.Y., including Kennedy's own testimony on the stand, the jury returned a verdict on its second full day of deliberations. People in the courtroom clapped when the verdict was announced.
"I'm incredibly grateful to the jury for working so hard on this case, and to my lawyers and to my family and friends and so many other people who supported me. I'm happy justice was done," she said.
The daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy and niece of President John F. Kennedy was accused of knowingly taking the sleep medication and then driving while coming under its effects.
Kennedy, 54, was charged after she crashed her Lexus SUV into a truck on a New York highway one morning in July 2013.
"You have to wonder why this ill-advised prosecution was brought," defense attorney Gerald Lefcourt said after court was adjourned. "Was it because of who the defendant is? They concede it was accidental and nevertheless pursued this case. I find this very depressing."
Prosecutors said Kennedy was not treated any differently and rejected she was targeted because of her notoriety.
"We prosecute 2,500 impaired driving cases annually in Westchester County. This case was treated no differently from any of the others," said Lucian Chalfen, spokesman for the Westchester County district attorney. "The jury heard all the evidence in this case and we respect their verdict."
Kennedy said she had great lawyers, and that most people "don't have access to that."
"We need to take a hard look at our criminal justice system in the United States," she said.
Kennedy, who is also the former wife of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, claims that she accidentally mistook the Ambien instead of her thyroid medication with a light breakfast that morning before heading to the gym, and had no idea she was coming under its effects as she drove. She said she did not remember the crash.
"Everyone is congratulating us, but it's really about winning a trial that never even should have went to court," defense attorney William Aronwald said after the verdict.
Kennedy's defense attorneys focused much of their attention on Kennedy's famous family and presidential lineage. When she testified in the case on Wednesday, Kennedy began by explaining that her father, Robert F. Kennedy, was a civil rights leader who was killed while running for president.
She has been joined by a slew of supporters, including her mother, Ethel, whom she pushed into the courthouse in a wheelchair earlier in the week, her sister Rory, and her daughters.
She faced up to a year in jail if convicted of the misdemeanor charge.