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Mistrial called in domestic violence case; prosecutors pledge to try again

Sep 25, 2015 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Judge Norman E. Young cut the trial off as it was nearing its end Wednesday morning.

The trial for a Riverton man charged with beating his ex-girlfriend ended in a mistrial Wednesday because of a question from a prosecutor.

The Fremont County Attorney's Office intends to retry the case; a new trial could begin in four to six weeks.

Judge Norman E. Young cut the trial off as it was nearing its end late Wednesday morning.

"We'll just give it another go," Fremont County deputy attorney Dan Stebner said in an interview.

A question from Stebner when he was cross examining defendant Justin Tanner King led to the mistrial. Stebner asked King if he told an officer after he was arrested the same thing he was saying on the witness stand.

"The judge was concerned the jury might make an inference that was a negative comment on (King) trying to invoke his right to remain silent," chief deputy attorney for Fremont County Ember Oakley said in an interview.

From how the questioning ended, jurors could have thought King refused to talk to police after his arrest and that Stebner's question suggested that remaining silent implies King is guilty, Stebner said.

"You can't comment on the defendant's right to remain silent to infer guilt," Stebner said.

King's attorney, Gordon Ellis, motioned for a mistrial, and Young accepted it.

Nearly done

The trial for the defendant began on Sept. 21 and was close its end by Sept. 23. Both sides had given opening statements, prosecutors had presented evidence, and the defense was presenting its witnesses.

If they do testify, defendants are often the last witnesses their side presents, meaning the mistrial came near the end of the trial.

After both sides finish with their evidence, the presiding judge instructs jurors on the applicable law, both sides give closing arguments, and the jury beings deliberating.

Charges

Investigators said King argued with his ex-girlfriend, Patricia Barrett, on March 14 at her Riverton home, assaulted her and then forced her into a car and drove to Lander, continuing to beat her along the way.

Prosecutors charged King with three felonies -- felonious restraint, strangulation of a household member, and aggravated assault and battery -- and two misdemeanors -- domestic battery and theft.

The defense argues that story is not all true.

In in his opening statement Wednesday, Ellis, the defense lawyer, said King never injured Barrett. He said Barrett drove with King to Lander voluntarily and went into the house of King's friends with the defendant.

She left a short while later unharmed, and then likely injured herself, Ellis claimed.

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