Newly released court documents show that prosecutors asked a 5th District judge to declare a mistrial after a juror was dismissed during polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs‘ trial.
Defense attorneys – who demanded that deliberations continue with an alternate juror – are now seeking a new trial based on the mishap, the documents show.
But Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap argues Jeffs can not claim foul after insisting on going forward with the trial on two counts of rape as an accomplice. The charges were based on a 2001 marriage Jeffs conducted between Elissa Wall, then 14, and Allen Steed, then 19.
Juror Deidre Shaw sent a note to 5th District Judge James L. Shumate indicating there was a problem on Sept. 25, the jury’s third day of deliberations.
Shaw’s note said juror Andrea Harold had not disclosed during jury selection that she had been sexually assaulted years earlier, a fact she shared with reporters after the verdict.
“I really think it affects her opinion. Please shed some light on what to do about this,” Shaw’s note said.
Shaw was brought into Shumate’s chambers and disclosed that the revelation had caused a heated argument witnessed by other jurors. Harold was then questioned and Shumate dismissed her.
Still in chambers, Belnap argued for a mistrial because of the dismissed juror’s false statements during the selection process and the potential for her prejudicial conduct to taint a fair trial.
“It’s hard to understand how after three days of deliberations we can start afresh with one person and hope to cure what [has] already taken place in that jury room,” he said.
When Shumate asked Jeffs’ attorneys if they wanted deliberations to proceed, Walter F. Bugden said, “That’s exactly what we want. We want this jury to decide this case.”
Shumate overruled the state’s bid for a mistrial and added an alternate juror to the jury, which reached its guilty verdict hours later.
Now, the defense claims that “errors and improprieties occurred” that now warrant a new trial.
Jeffs, 52, is currently serving two consecutive five-to-life terms at the Utah State Prison in Draper.