Judge Declares Mistrial in Burglary Case; DA Challenges Decision
A Centre County judge declared a mistrial after a jury failed to reach a complete verdict in a case where defendants allegedly broke into a State College apartment with the intent to start a fight.
President Judge Thomas K. Kistler declared a mistrial after a two-day trial on Monday and Tuesday that included roughly four hours of deliberation, according to the Centre County District Attorney's office.
Jurors returned to court with only a partial verdict and Kistler then declared a mistrial. The district attorney says prosecutors requested the court have the jury deliberate longer in order to reach a verdict on all charges, but the court denied that request.
The jury did not reach a decision regarding the burglary and criminal trespass charges against Stephen Dodd, 22, and Gabriel Beecher, 21, both of Milford, but the jury did find the men innocent of simple assault. The jury also found Beecher guilty of underage drinking.
The charges are related to a 2013 incident in downtown State College where the defendants allegedly forced their way into an apartment to start a physical altercation with residents.
Prosecutors say they were surprised to learn the jury did not reach a verdict on all charges and reportedly asked the court to give the jury a "pep talk" and have them deliberate further. However, the court ruled the jury had adequate time to reach a decision and declared a mistrial.
"The standard is whether they can come to a verdict, not whether 'enough' time had passed," the district attorney's office said in a statement Wednesday. "The court refused to send them back and recorded the verdict, declaring a mistrial on the undecided counts."
The district attorney's office is expected to retry the outstanding charges. Meanwhile, District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller blasted the court's decision in a prepared statement late Wednesday.
Parks Miller says the decision "is an injustice to the many Commonwealth witnesses, victims who now have to come relive this trial, the police who investigated this case, the jurors who spent two long days patiently listening to many witnesses and were doing their best and were very engaged, and the defendants themselves who will have to pay their lawyers again to be retried."
Kistler declined to discuss the merits of the case as it is still an active case. However, Kistler told StateCollege.com that when a jury reaches a decision it is up to the judge to decide either to accept the verdict or ask the jury to keep deliberating. In this case, the judge accepted the jury's verdict.
Kistler also noted that in Centre County a jury is selected weeks in advance of a trial and members are specifically chosen for a particular trial, in part, based on their availability. In this case, the attorneys involved said the trial would be complete within two days. The jury reportedly deliberated up until midnight on the second day when it reached a partial verdict.