MISTRIAL: Reasonable doubt or jury nullification
The mistrial ruling Thursday night by Judge David Crain came after the jury spent about 19 hours deliberating. "And I know y’all had a lot of emotions and stuff back there and sorry you had to go through that, but this is the way the system works,” said Judge Crain.
It was a bitter end to a week and a half of testimony.
Ed Watt, the spokesperson for the family of Kathy Blair, described it this way.
"It felt like defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, we were so close,” said Watt.
The jury started deliberations Wednesday afternoon without a clear cut decision regarding a verdict, according to jury foreperson Mary Wenzel.
"There were some still on the fence and by day two they had moved over a little bit, but we still had one hold out and Not guilty and it became contentious and difficult,” said Wenzel
The impasse was about a controversial confession video. After 4 hours with Austin detectives Shawn Gant Benalcazar confessed he killed Kathy Blair in 2014 while he burglarized her home.
Tuesday, Gant Benalcazar testified he took valium before the interview.
The hold-out on the jury expressed concern he could have been coerced into confessing.
There was also the problem that Miranda Rights were not read until after the confession.
Wenzel says the majority of those in the Jury never bought into the coercion claim, but a few did have a problem with the police tactics.
"That was a concern, we talked about it quite a bit, there were a lot of different feelings about that, and I think ultimately we came to feel the interview was the center of the trial, and if we didn’t accept it as evidence there really wasn’t much else to go on,” said Wenzel.
The jury remained stuck at 11-1. The reason came very close to what’s called Jury Nullification. Cornell Law School defines Jury Nullification as;
“A jury's knowing and deliberate rejection of the evidence or refusal to apply the law either because the jury wants to send a message about some social issue that is larger than the case itself, or because the result dictated by law is contrary to the jury's sense of justice, morality, or fairness.”
The official ruling from Judge Crain was; Reasonable Doubt by the hold-out juror, with no chance for a mandatory unanimous verdict.
"The jurors that voted Guilty, were very confident in that vote and we will of course retry this case,” said Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore.
It’s not uncommon for mistrials to happen in Travis County said Moore.
"It has happened in just the last year. Its America."
A plea deal is an option, but the family of Kathy Blair is not pushing for one.
There is no date yet for a re-trial.
The focus now is on the accomplice linked to the murder of Kathy Blair.
The trial for Tim Parlin is set for early May.