The People vs. Carlos Zapata, Christopher Meagher and Elizabeth Bailey criminal trial is teetering on the edge of a mistrial. However, presiding Shasta County Superior Court Judge Jody Burgess is doing everything in his power to prevent that from happening.
In a criminal trial by jury, defendants must be found guilty by a unanimous verdict. If even one out of 12 jurors disagrees with their fellow jurors’ assessment of a defendant’s guilt or innocence, the result can be a “hung jury” or mistrial.
This afternoon jurors were assembled so Burgess could inquire about the vote status on each count for each of the three defendants in the triple joinder Zapata/Meagher/Bailey trial.
Burgess specified that he was just interested in the votes, and how many times they’d voted. He instructed the foreman not to mention anything regarding guilt or innocence.
The foreman stood and answered the judge’s questions, using the word “stalemate” to describe the group’s inability thus far to arrive at a unanimous decision regarding the defendants’ collective charges.
The jurors had reached their Tuesday-afternoon decision after deliberating for approximately an hour and a half Thursday, and about the same number of hours before lunch today, prior to the judge’s inquiry.
Attorneys representing the District Attorney and the defendants looked on. No defendants were present. Other than a few members of the media, and one attorney, there were no other spectators in the courtroom gallery.
Burgess methodically went through the list of individual battery and disturbing-the-peace-by-fighting charges against Zapata, Meagher and Bailey, filed by the Shasta County District Attorney. He asked the foreman for clarification regarding how many times the jurors had voted on each charge against each defendant, and to disclose the vote in each count, again, without reference to guilt or innocence.
The foreman said there had been many conversations between the jurors, and that they’d arrived at some votes, but they were at a place where the jurors “just couldn’t move” from their positions.
“That’s where it kind of stopped,” the foreman said.
For example, on Count 1 against Zapata for disturbing the peace by fighting, the foreman said they’d voted on that once, with an 8-4 outcome.
The foreman said that tally was closer in the Count 3 battery charge against Meagher, with an eventual 10-2 split, a decision the foreman said was reached after the jury voted three times. He said Meagher’s Count 4 charge was even closer, with an 11-1 vote.
“We talked about those several times, and went back and forth,” the foreman said.
Regarding Bailey’s charges, the foreman couldn’t say for sure, but his best recollection was that the jurors voted two or three times, and arrived at either 2-10 or 11-1 outcomes.
With that, Burgess ordered the jurors to return to deliberations, but not before providing a new set of instructions. He explained that sometimes juries who have had difficulty reaching a verdict are able to resume deliberations and successfully reach a verdict on one, or more than one count.
Burgess said that fair and effective jury deliberations require frank and forthright exchanges of views. He asked the jurors to consider his suggestions, and to not hesitate to reexamine their views.
“It is your duty as jurors to deliberate with the goal of reaching a verdict if you can and can do so without surrendering your individual judgment,” Burgess said. “Do not change your position just because it differs from that of other jurors, or just because you or others want to reach a verdict.”
He encouraged the jurors to consider “new approaches in order to get a fresh perspective.” He reminded jurors that all of the trial’s evidence was available for their review, and that he was there to help, whether it was in the form of playing back audio, or to hear further instructions or arguments.
At that point Burgess ordered the jurors to continue deliberations in the courtroom. The jurors declined his offer of an afternoon break, and said they wished to begin immediately.
A few minutes before 3 p.m. the courtroom was cleared of everyone except the jurors. They were excused to return home after 4 p.m., and will resume deliberations Wednesday morning.