In a Hawaii courtroom on Monday, the murder trial began for Alexandria Duval, who is accused of intentionally driving her SUV off a cliff in 2016 and killing her identical twin sister, Anastasia Duval.
Alexandria (née Alison Dadow) survived the 200-foot fall t the rocky shoreline below. But Anastasia (born as Ann Dadow), who was sitting in the passenger seat, died at the scene.
Duval, a 39-year-old former yoga instructor who was born Alison Dadow, has long maintained her innocence. During opening statements, prosecutors alleged that the crash was an intentional act, while Duval’s defense attorney said the crash was “an accident, not murder.”
The fatal crash reportedly capped off years of business ventures, bankruptcies and moves for the sisters, who were born in Utica, New York, and formerly owned and operated yoga studios in Palm Beach County, Florida, and Park City, Utah.
A motive remains unclear in the alleged murder, which Duval has twice been charged with; initial charges against her were dismissed for a lack of evidence.
Here are six things you need to know about the case.
1. Prosecutor Says Duval ‘Intentionally or Knowingly’ Drove off Cliff as Sisters Fought in Car
Duval has requested a bench trial, leaving her fate in the hands of Hawaii Circuit Judge Peter Cahill.
During opening statements Monday, Maui Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Emlyn Higa alleged that Duvall “intentionally or knowingly” drove off the cliff as the sisters fought.
According to Higa, one witness who followed the Duvals’ vehicle after he saw it zigzagging down the road watched the sisters allegedly “physically fighting within the car.” Another witness allegedly heard “screaming” coming from the SUV, Higa said.
Higa added that witnesses said that Duval allegedly later stopped the SUV, and witnesses noticed the hazard lights flashing. The fight continued, according to the prosecutor, who claims a witness allegedly said he heard the SUV’s engine revving loudly before accelerating down the road, straight, until it “suddenly jerked” to the left and went over the cliff.
Higa told the judge the state’s case hinges on three alleged facts: He alleges there was a hard acceleration, a hard left turn and no braking. He said he intends to back up these claims with eyewitness testimony, data retrieved from the SUV, and evidence recovered from the roadway.
2. Defense Says Crash Was ‘Accident, Not Murder’
Duval’s defense attorney, Birney Bervar, countered in his opening statement that the fatal wreck was an “accident, not murder.”
Bervar noted that Anastasia’s hands contained strands of his client’s hair, indicating Alexandria was being violently attacked and, as a direct result, lost control of the vehicle.
He said that “several eyewitnesses” saw the violent interaction, and will testify “the passenger was violently pulling my client’s hair with both of her hands — pulling it so hard it was jerking her head over the passenger side seat.”
3. Alexandria Allegedly Had Alcohol on Her Breath: Police Officer
On Monday, a police officer testified that Alexandria allegedly had alcohol on her breath.
The officer said the SUV sustained heavy damage when it collided with the rocks, and that when he got to the vehicle, the passenger was foaming at the mouth and seemed to have “major head trauma.”
In August of 2016, several months after the fatal accident, Duval was pulled over and accused of driving while intoxicated in upstate New York. At the time, police alleged her blood alcohol content was 0.26, more than three times the legal limit.
She has pleaded not guilty and the case remains unresolved.
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4. The Sisters Were Well-Known Yoga Instructors
The Duval sisters were reportedly born Alison and Ann Dadow in New York state, but they came to prominence as yoga teachers in Palm Beach, Florida, where they ran multiple locations of their yoga studio starting in 2008 and even produced an instructional DVD.
Still, they may have lived beyond their means (and their success), according to one local expert: “They were very well respected here for a while,” South Florida gossip columnist Jose Lambiet told the Star-Advertiser. “But when you get successful, it’s easy to start overspending. This is Palm Beach. Once you start shopping on Worth Avenue, it can get out of control pretty quickly.
Such financial woes could have been at play when the sisters abruptly closed their yoga studios in Florida and moved across the country — the first in a series of decisions that would take them, ultimately, to Hawaii and the scene of the summer’s deadly crash.
5. The Sisters Reportedly Filed for Bankruptcy Several Times and Had New Names
After leaving Palm Beach, the Duval sisters appeared in Park City, Utah, where they opened a new yoga studio, according to the Star-Advertiser.
They both filed for bankruptcy in 2014, according to the paper, saying they had hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Lambiet told the Star-Advertiser the pair traveled to Maui in December 2015.
Police said both sisters had Hawaii driver’s licenses, with their Duval names, at the time of the crash. But PEOPLE has not been able to confirm if the sisters legally changed their names.
6. The Sisters Had a Volatile Relationship, Says Anastasia’s Ex-Boyfriend
Keith Weiss, a Florida chef who says he dated Anastasia for more than six months before the sisters changed their names, previously told PEOPLE he witnessed explosive fights between the sisters, which would erupt without warning and often in public spaces.
“I once got a call from Ann saying, ‘Get over here now … I’m going to kill her,’” Weiss recalled. “She actually started hitting Alison with the phone. I heard it … thump, thump, thump. They were both screaming at each other.
“I get to their apartment and there’s broken glass everywhere from wine bottles and shattered glasses. There was blood everywhere, and the bedroom door was falling off its hinges,” Weiss continued. “Both of them were sitting on the couch when I walked in, and they were like, ‘Hey … how are you doing?’ Alison had a bruise on her face. I asked them if they were okay, and they were like, ‘We’re good, we’re fine. We’re just watching a movie.’ Meanwhile, all around them, it’s total destruction. They seemed to not know they wanted to kill each other just minutes earlier.”
On at least two occasions, the twins began fighting inside Weiss’ car, once when Anastasia was driving, he said. Both of those scuffles were “very intense” and nearly resulted in crashes.
Weiss said Alexandria would tag along on most of his dates with Anastatia. “It almost seemed like Alison was jealous of Ann, who always got the guy,” Weiss explains. “Alison was just a bystander, basically. Alison was always the one who was tagging along.”