An Orange County Superior Court Judge declared a mistrial on Tuesday morning after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict, in a case involving the 1981 murder of a Newport Beach man.
This marked the second trial for the defendant, who was initially tried, convicted and sentenced to death back in 1982. A new trial was ordered in 2007 when a federal judge ruled that the defendant was unable to understand and take part in the trial because he was under medication administered by jail staff at the time. The defendant, now 62, was 29-years-old when he was accused of killing a 77-year-old widower in his Newport Beach home after he placed a personal ad in a national gay newspaper and set up a date with the defendant.
According to prosecutors, the defendant and an accomplice had plotted to rob elderly men who placed personal ads. The victim was beaten and strangled, and property was taken. His body was discovered on October 13, 1981, by police.
According to the defense, the defendant's DNA and fingerprints were not present at the scene. Moreover, the presence of unidentified DNA at the scene showed that someone else was responsible for the victim's death. The defense also argued that the defendant did take the victim's belongings but did not kill him. The defendant testified at the first trial that the victim was already dead when he arrived at the scene and that he decided to steal his belongings.
After deliberating, the jury in the second trial was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. According to the jury forewoman, the jury was split 10 to 2 in favor of conviction. Those who voted to acquit were concerned by a lack of DNA evidence linking the defendant to the murder, according to the forewoman.
In light of the mistrial due to a hung jury, the prosecution plans to try the defendant for a third time. Instead of facing the death penalty, the defendant may face life in prison without the possibility of parole.
What is a hung jury?
This case brings up an interesting issue in the field of criminal law. In order for a defendant to be convicted of a crime, a jury of his or her peers must reach a unanimous verdict. If even one juror votes to acquit rather than convict (or vice versa), and this juror cannot be swayed by further review of evidence and deliberation with other jurors, the jury may be declared "hung." A hung jury may result in a mistrial, as in the case discussed above, or a plea bargain may be presented to reduce the charges and sentence. A third option is for the case to be dismissed.
Every single member of a jury plays an essential role in determining a defendant's guilt or innocence. This makes it all the more important for a criminal defense attorney to understand how to communicate with jurors and present a defendant's case in a clear and compelling manner. Though a unanimous not guilty verdict is ideal, influencing just one juror could be enough for a mistrial or case dismissal. When a defendant's very life is on the line, an attorney will need to use every tool and advantage at his or her disposal to seek the best possible result.
At the Law Offices of Jacqueline Goodman, we represent defendants in criminal court proceedings in and around Orange County, California. If you were arrested or have been accused of a crime, you need to act quickly to involve a legal professional who can protect your rights both inside and outside of the courtroom. Call our offices now to find out how we can help you. (714) 733-1737