Why it took Pierce County prosecutors two trials to convict one of the ‘Craigslist killers’

12_angry_menNews came out today that Clabon Terrel Berniard was convicted of killing a man who advertised a diamond ring on Craigslist. Berniard is facing life in prison for the conviction. But this isn’t the first time Berniard was convicted of the crime. In 2011, he was convicted after trial, but the conviction was reversed by the Court of Appeals in 2014. The Court of Appeals decision can be read here.

After the first trial, Berniard made a host of arguments on appeal. The court agreed that Berniard’s confrontation and jury trial rights were violated, and reversed the convictions. The court’s analysis of the jury trial rights violation is interesting, and mimics the scenario in the classic film, Twelve Angry Men. In the first trial, after the jury began deliberating, one of the jurors burst into tears and told court staff that she couldn’t sleep the previous evening. During another interaction, the juror was crying hysterically and said she had thoughts about harming herself as a way out [because everyone was against her.]

The prosecutor moved to dismiss the juror for misconduct, argucing that she was unfit for service due to a mental defect. Berniard objected and asked the court the juror if her distress resulted from being a hold out juror who doesn’t want to convict him. The court sided with the prosecutor and ruled that since the juror had thoughts of self-harm, she was unstable mentally and emotionally, and was unfit to serve as a juror. The court added that the reference to everyone else being against her does not show that that the juror was actually a hold-out juror (really?).

On appeal, the Court of Appeals ruled the trial court should have asked the juror some questions about what was distressing her before dismissing her.  The Court of Appeals also believed the juror’s comments were likely based on a disagreement on the merits of the case. In other words, it was pretty obvious the juror did not want to convict Berniard, and that the she was stressed out because she was the only juror who felt that way.

The other issue that caused a reversal was more mundane. The co-defendant’s were not on trial with Berniard. Despite this, the prosecutor introduced the co-defendant’s statements to establish Berniard’s culpability. This violated Berniard’s right to confront the witnesses against him.

After today’s conviction, Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist seemed to have no problem with the orginal trial court’s removal of the hold out juror, and stated, “justice was delayed but it was not denied.”