April 13, 2012
Deliberations in the Joshua Carrier sex-assault trial appeared to hit a wall Friday, with a juror asking, “What do we do if a juror says, ‘I quit?’”
Jury question No. 10 pointed to signs of trouble early on the fourth day of deliberations and led to a request for a mistrial by Carrier’s defense attorneys, though a judge denied the motion, calling it premature.
Instead, 4th Judicial District Judge David A. Gilbert ordered the jury to continue deliberating, saying it’s possible any disputes would be resolved.
The question provided no further details about the reluctant juror.
Gilbert said if further problems are reported, he may elect to deliver a more strongly worded instruction that would raise the prospect of a mistrial if jurors are unable to reach a unanimous verdict.
Attorneys on both sides acknowledged the question was unusual but were quick to downplay its significance. They said juries often grapple with frustrations and fatigue, and that Friday’s question might have been a hiccup.
Trying to parse jury questions is like “reading tea leaves,” prosecutor Amy Fitch said, an assessment shared by Carrier’s attorneys. Attorneys not involved in the case said a mistrial wouldn’t be welcome for the defense or the prosecution.
“Starting over is painful for everybody,” said public defender Cindy Jones.
The jury must be unanimous before deciding to acquit or convict on each of the 207 counts against the former Colorado Springs police officer. If the jury can’t reach any unanimous decisions, a mistrial would be declared.
It’s also possible that a jury could acquit on some counts, convict on others, and fail to reach an accord on still other counts.
In that case, prosecutors would have the option to re-try Carrier on the unresolved criminal counts.
Within an hour of jury question No. 10, a juror asked about one of the child pornography counts against Carrier. Later, the jury asked to review five commercially produced DVDs alleged to be child pornography — suggesting the jury set aside deliberations on the sexual assault counts and focused instead the child pornography counts.
“You just never know,” said lead defense attorney Christopher Decker.
The Carrier jury remained inquisitive throughout more than three weeks of testimony, questioning most witnesses, sometimes to elicit more detail, or to clarify a point of testimony.
But questions also challenged prosecution witnesses, such as when a juror asked Colorado Springs police interviewer Kelly Schiffelbein when she “made up (her) mind” that Carrier was guilty.
Defense attorneys argue that charges against Carrier were partly the result of parents’ and police officers’ coercive questions for child accusers, and they directed criticism at Schiffelbein in particular.
Deliberations started Tuesday afternoon. The jury previously asked for definitions of “sexual gratification, arousal and abuse” – terms that go to the heart of the sexual assault allegations against Carrier.
To return guilty verdicts, the jury must find that Carrier’s touching of Mann Middle School children was for sexual gratification and not for “bona fide” medical purposes, as his attorneys allege.
Defense attorneys defended Carrier’s touching of student wrestlers, saying it was strictly to rule out the possibly dangerous skin diseases — a potential exemption to the sexual assault charges against their client. They deny the more sexually graphic allegations of several other boys, who they say came forward with invented allegations, such as the claim Carrier tried to masturbate them during the exams.
Judge Gilbert said in court Friday morning there has been no shouting or other obvious signs of trouble from jurors.
Deliberations will continue at 8:30 a.m. Monday.
Contact Lance Benzel: 636-0366 Twitter @lancebenzel
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Read about closing arguments in the case here.