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Hung jury

Jul 15, 2015 By Steven R. Peck

What happened last week in Lander is rare, but it's part of our legal process

In this era of plea bargains, courtroom trials have become rare. A hung jury is even more rare, but that's what we got over the weekend in the trial of a man charged with raping his cousin.

Reporter Eric Blom was in the courtroom last week in Lander and filed a couple of good stories about the case, including Sunday's "explainer" on the deadlocked jury and what it means.

As things stand now, the failure of the jury to reach the required unanimous verdict means that the case must go to trial again. Same defendant, same accuser, same charges, same evidence -- different trial.

Often a second trial in the same case is accompanied by a change of venue, meaning the second time around for the defendant we have identified only as a 46-year-old Arapahoe man could take place in another courtroom in another county.

Memorably in 2006, the second trial of Wyoming Honor Farm inmate Floyd D. Grady, who was charged with killing Honor Farm nurse Tammy Watts in one of the most notorious crimes of modern times in our county, took place in Jackson after a Fremont County jury couldn't arrive on a unanimous verdict in Lander. (The second trial convicted Grady.)

As for not identifying the suspect by name, the charge involves an alleged sexual assault on a family member. Although she is an adult, by some definitions that alleged crime constitutes not just rape, but forcible incest as well. We discussed the issue at length in our newsroom and decided that we didn't want to identify, or do something that would help identify a sexual assault incest victim, regardless of her age, if that's what she turned out to be.

Here is the moment to stress again that the suspect has not been convicted of that crime, but the hung jury indicates that at least some on the jury think he is guilty.

Interestingly, the hung jury further justifies the decision not to use the defendant's name from the other point of view as well. Clearly there is reasonable doubt in the case, and if the defendant is not convicted, then we'll feel better about not having further harmed him by attaching his name, in print, to a crime of which he was not convicted.

Other media have used the name publicly, and even the name of the alleged victim, who is an adult, was used in open court.

Presumably the names of both the defendant and the accuser also are all over the Internet, that great denier of fairness, due process and privacy.

We won't try to speak to anyone else's decision not to name the defendant and accuser in print, but we have our reasons for not doing so, and we can live with them.

No one relishes the notion of another trial in this case, but hung juries are an occasional part of our legal system. If the long-established dictates of our world-envied process of jurisprudence require a second trial, then so be it.

The idea here is to see justice done. Either way, it looks like meeting that objective will require another try.

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