She says she intended to take a thyroid pill.
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Kerry Kennedy took the stand Wednesday in the drugged-driving case against her, saying she did not intentionally take a sleeping pill that affected her ability to operate a vehicle.
Her lawyer, Gerald Lefcourt, began with a direct question.
"Mrs. Kennedy, let's get right to the heart of the issue," he asked. "Did you intentionally or knowingly take zolpidem?"
"No, I did not," she responded.
"At any point that morning, July 13, 2012, did you at any point realize you were under the influence of zolpidem?"
"No, I did not," Kennedy replied.
That response — whether she continued to drive after she knew she took a fast-acting sleeping pill — cuts to the core of the prosecutors' case.
Kennedy, 54, is charged with a single count of driving while ability impaired by drugs. If convicted, she could face up to a year in jail though as a first-time offender that steep a sentence is unlikely.
Kennedy has opted to fight the case at every turn.
Both sides largely agree that she drove around 5 miles down Interstate 684 after she said she accidentally took a 10-milligram dose of Ambien the morning of July 13. Along the way she sped, swerved dangerously, hit a tractor-trailer, popped a tire, and, for some portion of the trip, drove on a bare rim before coming to a stop on New York 22 in Armonk, N.Y.
The trial of the ex-wife of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, daughter of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and niece of President John F. Kennedy started Monday at Westchester County Courthouse here. Since then, a daily circus has unfolded with dozens of reporters and photographers on hand plus cameos by Kennedy family members and friends including 85-year-old Ethel Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy's mother.
The highly anticipated testimony from Kerry Kennedy came after two days of testimony from character witnesses, police officers and a toxicology expert.
Lefcourt, a noted defense lawyer who has represented a string of celebrities, guided Kerry Kennedy through her personal biography and eventually the events of the morning she wrecked her Lexus SUV.
She said she had no memory of driving after getting on I-684. She began her day early and around 7:30 a.m. took a pill.
"I thought I was taking my Synthroid," thyroid medicine, Kerry Kennedy said. "I now know, thanks to the (toxicology) lab, that I must have taken my sleep medicine by mistake."
She then made a cappuccino, packed three bags into her SUV and headed down her driveway in Bedford, N.Y., toward the expressway.
The next thing she remembered was a man knocking on her door, she said. Her SUV was sitting in a left-turn lane on New York 22, about a block east of I-684. She had been slumped over the wheel.
Police arrived and Kennedy stepped out of the car, surveying the damage. An officer then administered field sobriety tests, which Kerry Kennedy failed.
"I remember thinking that it was disturbing that I couldn't perform those tests that should have been pretty easy for me," she said.
She repeatedly denied knowing that the sleeping pill had affected her driving.
Lefcourt showed jurors photographs of the two pill bottles, which looked similar. He also displayed photos of the pills themselves. One was slightly longer than the other, but they otherwise appeared much the same.
The cross-examination from Assistant District Attorney Doreen Lloyd seemed to rattle Kerry Kennedy at several points.
"It would've taken you about a second to read that label, correct?" Lloyd asked at one point.
"I really wish I had or I wouldn't be here today," Kerry Kennedy said.
"Would you agree that was careless of you?" Lloyd asked.
"I would," Kerry Kennedy said.
At one point Lloyd read aloud Kerry Kennedy's original statement to the media on the matter, in which she said she might have had a seizure. Kerry Kennedy later revised the statement to say the problem was a sleeping pill.
She had trouble remembering details, such as when she put her clothes on that morning and which doctor prescribed some of her pills. She claimed to have little idea about zolpidem's effect on her body despite taking the medication on and off for 10 years.
After the testimony, the jury of four men and two women was sent home while lawyers for both sides met behind closed doors with Judge Robert Neary of Westchester County Supreme Court to discuss the jury charge.
The trial will resume Thursday morning with closing arguments expected sometime that day.
"No comment till tomorrow," Kerry Kennedy said as she left the courthouse.