A driver who killed a bicyclist on a rural Minnesota road was convicted this week of careless driving.

The McLeod County attorney last year charged Emily Givens, 26, of Hutchinson, with criminal vehicular homicide, alleging that she was reading a text message when she hit and killed Penny Verdeck, 40, on April 26, 2015.

In a ruling this week, Judge Timothy Looby said prosecutors couldn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Givens was distracted by a text message. He found her not guilty of a misdemeanor charge of using a cellphone while driving and not guilty of the more serious felony charge — vehicular homicide.

At issue was whether Givens actually read two short texts near the time of the crash. In an analysis of her phone, the messages registered they had been read. Givens said she didn't read the messages but the messaging app automatically opened up when she used her thumbprint to open the phone to change a Pandora radio station. She said the messaging app was the last application she used while she was still parked in her driveway. Givens' attorney had suggested that she might have been briefly distracted when she took a drink of coffee or changed the Pandora station.

"These inferences do not excuse the Defendant's driving conduct, which was clearly negligent," the judge wrote in a memorandum attached to his ruling. "In sum, Defendant's driving conduct is an obvious case of distracted driving." The judge noted that Givens had at least 17 seconds of "unobstructive view" to see Verdeck and avoid the collision.

Verdeck's husband, Ryan, said he's disappointed with the verdict but respects the judge's decision. "We thought there was plenty of evidence for a felony, but they raised reasonable doubt that she wasn't reading a text message," he said. "I wasn't in the car so I can't say for sure she was or wasn't. Only she can tell us.

"Because of this, I now have two girls to raise without a mother and they are my first and foremost priority," he said.

Givens couldn't be reached for comment Thursday, but her mother, Mary, said, "There are no winners in this case." She said her family is relieved that "Emily won't be put in prison."

"We're not celebrating, because there's nothing to celebrate," she said. "We know the Verdeck family is suffering. … It's been a very painful thing for both families."

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788