Mistrial declared after 1 juror says he won’t change mind on guilt
McKINNEY – Dena Schlosser‘s capital murder trial ended in a hung jury Saturday, with one juror firmly against 10 others who had concluded she was not guilty by reason of insanity and one panelist who would not decide.
State District Judge Chris Oldner declared the mistrial about 5:45 p.m., after jurors said for the third time that they were hopelessly deadlocked. Jurors said the man who voted guilty refused to participate in deliberations.
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They deliberated more than 40 hours over four days to decide whether Ms. Schlosser was guilty of killing her 10-month-old daughter, Maggie Schlosser. Ms. Schlosser’s defense said that she was not guilty because she did not know right from wrong at the time she cut off her daughter’s arms with a kitchen knife.
After the jury left the courtroom following 11 days in court, Ms. Schlosser told her attorneys “thank you” as she shrugged and then hugged David Haynes and Bill Schultz.
Lead prosecutor Curtis Howard nodded at Ms. Schlosser as she left. He said later that he could not comment about whether the case would be tried again. Ms. Schlosser was returned to the Collin County jail.
Bob Nicholas, who married Ms. Schlosser’s mother when Ms. Schlosser was 7 and divorced her when Ms. Schlosser was in college, cried quietly in a corner after the mistrial was announced. He had hoped the woman who still calls him daddy would go to a mental hospital after the jury found her insane.
“After a long 15 months, losing Maggie, Dena’s two older daughters having lost their nurturing mother, there just remains this open, empty feeling …” he trailed off, saying he couldn’t continue, as he sat on a blue padded bench alone outside the courtroom.
Five jurors – two men and three women – stopped outside the courtroom to apologize to Mr. Nicholas for not reaching a decision. Several seemed near tears.
“We are so sorry,” the jury forewoman told him, shaking his hand. “We tried our best.”
“I know you did,” Mr. Nicholas said.
The other jurors, carrying suitcases after being sequestered Friday, shook his hand and seemed to want to say more.
Steve Penn, a juror from Plano who voted for insanity, said the holdout’s “mind was partially made up before we started deliberating.”
He said the jury room was emotional with both “heated debate and polite discourse.”
“We could not convince him to go through the process in a rational way,” he said. “There was a lot of evidence that just tore at your heart.”
Mr. Schultz said the defense fought an uphill battle.
“It’s such an enormous crime that we’re fighting. It’s asking a lot of somebody to excuse the actions on mental grounds,” Mr. Schultz said. “We tried hard to break down those feelings with all 12. We will come back fighting again.”
Both prosecutors and the defense said they had no quarrel with the jury.
“They’re broken up about it,” Mr. Haynes said. “They worked as hard as they could.”
He added that Ms. Schlosser would again plead not guilty by reason of insanity if the state retries her. Shortly after lunch Saturday, the jury sent its 17th note to the court saying one juror disagreed with the rest of the panel and that further negotiations were futile. The panel also told the judge Thursday that they were at an impasse.
“I … have reached a conclusion that cannot be reversed,” the holdout said in the note to the court. The juror, who signed his name but was not identified, said he made up his mind on the first day and would not waver.
Jurors scowled Saturday as Judge Oldner told them he did not want to declare a mistrial and ordered deliberations to continue. One woman rubbed her temples. The judge gave the jury what is referred to in legal circles as a “dynamite charge,” a move intended to propel deliberations to continue despite a stalemate.
In the 18th note – sent just before the mistrial was declared – jurors said they reviewed the evidence and would never reach a verdict.
Barry Sorrels, a local defense lawyer, said the number of notes and some of their content was unusual. Jurors asked Friday for the court to define “deliberations” and the role of the jury. Those questions may have been an attempt to force the holdout to participate. Mr. Sorrels, who has successfully used the insanity defense in a Collin County court, said the notes were probably directed toward the only juror who wanted a guilty verdict.
Mr. Sorrels also said the holdout juror possibly has an oppositional personality or is morally opposed to sending a person to a mental hospital with the possibility that they could be back on the street someday.
“If she’s so obviously legally insane, he’s decided he’s not going to follow the law,” he said. “Although I’m sure he promised to when they picked the jury.”
Jurors looked grim each time they entered the courtroom after being sequestered Friday night. One man sat with his chin resting on his right fist, his lips pursed. Another nodded. A woman who typically smiled when she entered the courtroom frequently frowned and sat back in her chair with her arms crossed. Many wore jeans, a change from the previous 10 days in court.
The attorneys, the jury and Ms. Schlosser appeared increasingly haggard as deliberations dragged on. Ms. Schlosser looked as if she had not slept much. Her hair was askew, her face puffy and weary.
Three psychiatrists testified for the defense that Ms. Schlosser was insane when Maggie died in November 2004. The prosecution did not call any psychiatrists who had examined Ms. Schlosser. She told her psychiatrists that she believed God ordered her to cut off the baby’s arms, as well as her own arms, legs and head after seeing a television report of a lion maiming or killing a boy.
Ten jurors were swayed by extensive testimony from the psychiatrists who said Ms. Schlosser’s severe mental disease caused her not to know her actions were wrong.
Doctors told Ms. Schlosser she was suffering from postpartum psychosis and depression after a psychotic break from reality in the days following Maggie’s home birth in January 2004. She cycled on and off the antipsychotic drug Haldol for several months.
Forensic psychiatrist William H. Reid testified during the trial that Ms. Schlosser’s husband, John Schlosser, and the family’s church prevented her from getting proper psychiatric care when she needed it and when she wanted it. The family’s minister, Doyle Davidson, a self-appointed apostle and prophet, testified he believes demons cause mental illness and preaches that medicine is not necessary for those who believe enough.
The defense and the state do not disagree that Ms. Schlosser killed her daughter – only about her state of mind at the time. The defense argued Ms. Schlosser’s profound psychosis caused her not to know right from wrong when she killed the baby in her crib.
Prosecutors contended that Ms. Schlosser knew her actions were wrong because she was able to tell her husband she hurt the baby and admit she cut off Maggie’s arms.
The burden was on the defense to show by a preponderance of the evidence that it was more likely than not that Ms. Schlosser did not know right from wrong because of a mental disease when she killed Maggie. This is a lesser standard than beyond a reasonable doubt.
Staff writers Herb Booth and LaKisha Ladson contributed to this report.