Sunday, June 23, 2013

Hung jury prompts mistrial in manslaughter case against Josh Hastings

Posted By , and on Sun, Jun 23, 2013 at 12:56 PM

HUNG JURY: Josh Hastings, striding down a hallway in the Pulaski County Courthouse today, will be retired on a manslaughter charge.
  • Brian Chilson
  • HUNG JURY: Josh Hastings, striding down a hallway in the Pulaski County Courthouse today, will be retried on a manslaughter charge.

After two days and almost 13 hours of deliberations, a circuit court jury was unable to reach a verdict Sunday afternoon in the manslaughter trial of fired Little Rock police officer Josh Hastings for his fatal shooting of Bobby Moore, 15, last August.

HELD IN CONTEMPT: Bill James, defense attorney, was upbeat as jury moved to mistrial.
  • Brian Chilson
  • HELD IN CONTEMPT: Bill James, defense attorney, was upbeat as jury moved to mistrial.
Judge Wendell Griffen declared a mistrial. He asked first if further deliberations would help, but the jury foreman said it would be difficult to change the convictions of those involved in the jury division. The judge declared the mistrial and then proceeded to set dates for a retrial, beginning in mid-September.

UPDATE: David Koon is still in court, but KARK has Tweeted that Judge Griffen is fining defense attorney Bill James for multiple contempt of court citations for things he said or did during the trial. I await further elaboration. But KARK says he cited him eight times and fined him $2,500 for each. Channel 7 indicates on Twitter this is for his repeated mentions of juvenile police records of those in the car that night.

UPDATE II: David Koon here. Tried to post earlier, but technical gremlins got me down.

By my count, Judge Wendell Griffen fined defense attorney Bill James 10 times, $2,500 each, for violations of an earlier court order which said that the juvenile probation records of Bobby Moore, Jeremiah Johnson and Keontay Walker could be brought up by the defense only to establish "bias and motive," but not their state of mind at the time of the incident involving the shooting of Bobby Moore, and not to establish their character.

Referring to the court record of the proceedings, the Judge read aloud from Bill James' opening statement in which James referred to the three boys being on probation and worrying whether they would get caught while committing felonies. Griffen said he summoned James to the bench at a point during the trial and cited him for contempt of court for that infraction. Griffen then proceeded to read aloud other passages and questioning by James in which James referred to the three boys being afraid of getting arrested, afraid of getting caught, or afraid of going to jail. With each passage, Griffen said James was fined $2,500. The last passage Griffen read was from James' closing statement, in which James said Moore, Walker and Johnson were committing adult felonies and adult crimes.

Afterward, Griffen told James: "I do not like doing this because, frankly, I expect better of lawyers in this court." Griffen said that he considered whether to sentence James to five days in jail for each infraction, but said he didn't because Josh Hastings will need James going into the new trial, and because he believes the fine will be sufficient. "When I rule," Griffen said, "you obey. And if you can't, I can issue sanctions accordingly."

After he was done with James, Griffen thanked those involved in the case before likening a mistrial to being required to do ones' homework over again. Nobody liked it, he said, but a retrial was in the interest of justice.

Outside in the hallway, Prosecutor John Johnson disputed a reporter's question that the prosecution had "lost" the trial, saying "We didn't lose, did we?" and adding that they will fight another day. He said he's looking forward to presenting the case to another jury. Asked by another reporter whether they will try to seat black jury members in the next trial, Johnson said he didn't believe that a juror's impartiality had anything to do with the color of the juror's skin.

A new trial date for Hastings has been set for September 16 through October 4.

Parties and the public were allowed into Griffen's courtroom at 5:25 p.m. The jury had resumed deliberations at 11:30 a.m. after being sent home at 6 p.m. Saturday after 7 hours of deliberation. The trial began with jury selection on Monday.

Hastings was fired in part for failing to follow police policy in use of deadly force in the parking lot shooting of Moore, who Hastings believed to be a suspect in some car break-ins. The prosecution made the case that Hastings was not in danger and that he had not told the truth about circumstances of his encounter with the car driven by Moore, accompanied by two companions. The car later proved to be stolen and Moore's companions admitted they'd been burglarizing cars that night on a parking lot of a west Little Rock apartment complex. Hastings had a checkered work history, including allegations of untruthfulness with superiors, but that was not a part of the trial record. He has filed papers indicating he'd appeal his firing. He's the son of veteran police Lt. Terry Hastings.

No word yet on the split of the jury and David Koon will be attempting to update with comments from prosecution, defense and Moore's family.

UPDATE: Unconfirmed report from a friend of a juror that the panel was split in favor of conviction, 10-2 by this unconfirmed account. The judge's decision to allow extended deliberation indicates a lopsided split, in whichever direction.

WILL TRY AGAIN: Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson.
  • Brian Chilson
  • WILL TRY AGAIN: Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson.
The jury consisted of nine women and three men. All were white. Race will inevitably be an issue with some in the community because of ongoing legal action that complains the Little Rock police have a pattern of tolerating misdeeds by white officers against black people. The firing and prosecution of Hastings, the first in memory of a Little Rock officer for use of deadly force, broke sharply from that pattern, however. He is white and Moore was black. Race aside, the jury had to consider a law officer's unswerving protestations that he'd acted properly against the word of admitted lawbreakers. It also had to weigh competing assessments of accident reconstruction expert witnesses.

Chief Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson argued that the facts demonstrated that Hastings had acted recklessly. He said the defense had thrown up red herrings to cover the tracks of an officer who'd, at a minimum, exhibited bad judgment in firing shots at someone who he couldn't be sure was a car burglar. He also said Hastings' story didn't stand up — that he could fire three deadly shots and get out of the way of a moving car in a quarter of a second.

WAITING: Trial attendees pass the time in a courthouse hallway while the Josh Hastings jury deliberates. At 2:15 p.m., deliberations continued after all most 10 hours of discussions over two days.
  • Bran Chilson
  • WAITING: Trial attendees pass the time in a courthouse hallway while the Josh Hastings jury deliberated.

From David Koon earlier today:

Just after noon, Judge Wendell Griffen released the jury in the manslaughter trial of former Little Rock Police Officer Josh Hastings for more deliberations after giving them an additional instruction regarding a hung jury.

Griffen told the jury that it is in the interest of the state and the defendant for them to reach an agreement in the case. He told the jury that they should consider that if they can't reach a verdict, the case will have to be decided at some point by a jury, most likely on the same evidence, which will cause delay. He said it is unlikely the court would be able to seat a jury that is more impartial and more intelligent than them.

He asked the jury to weigh and discuss the evidence and make "every reasonable effort to harmonize your views." He said, however, that no juror should surrender his or her sincere beliefs or convictions to reach a verdict, and that jurors should respect each others opinions.

In closing the instruction, he asked them to take "a reasonable time" to reach a verdict. Then they were dismissed with the new instruction back to the jury room. Within ten minutes, the jury sent out a note to the judge.

UPDATE: At 3:10 p.m., another note from the jury to the judge. The jury has put in nearly 11 hours of deliberating over two days in the case. FYI: When attorneys go into the courtroom on occasions when notes are sent to the judge, spectators have not been allowed in.

Still more jury communication at 3:40 p.m.

4:30 p.m., still no word. That's five hours today after seven hours yesterday.

5:20 p.m., judge confers with lawyers in courtroom. Both Josh Hastings and Bobby Moore's family go into courtroom and public is allowed in as well.

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