Updated Thu, Sep 5, 2013 1:20 pm
In what Sheriff Shawn Justice called a "complete mistake," a sheriff's deputy's error led to the murder trial of Robert Schall again being declared a mistrial Thursday on the grounds of juror contamination in the Vinton County Common Pleas Court.
A deputy who had testified earlier in the trial was found to have given a juror a ride home at the conclusion of the trial's first day on Wednesday, Justice told The Courier. Judge Jeffrey Simmons declared a mistrial for the second time this year as Schall faced charges in the alleged October 2011 murder of Michael Hunt, of Laurelville.
Schall was also facing charges of arson and robbery.
In the first trial, which took place in April, prosecutors argued that Schall and his wife went over to Hunt's trailer demanding that Hunt pay back debt from drug buys, The Courier previously reported. Schall then allegedly shot Hunt, stole items from the home and set it on fire.
At the April trial, the jury could not come back with a unanimous decision and Judge Simmons declared a mistrial for the first time.
In Thursday's court proceedings, the second day of the trial, the final witness for the prosecution had testified when lawyers convened in Simmons' chambers.
After a brief recess, Simmons returned to the court room to tell the jury that the trial was being terminated and the case was declared a mistrial. The jury was dismissed.
The judge did not explain in open court why the trial was being ended.
County Prosecutor Trecia Kimes-Brown had no comment after the dismissal, but said a press release from her office would be produced within the day after the judge's decision.
Defense attorneys Chuck Knight and William Eachus said they were pleased with the outcome.
"I think the judge made the correct decision here based on the juror contamination and the involvement of the sheriff's office," Knight said.
Justice said the incident was a "complete mistake."
"A juror needed a ride home after the first day of the trial was over and the only deputy here to give her a ride was a deputy that testified earlier in the day," Justice told The Courier. "It was an accident."
The deputy, whose name Justice did not provide, will not be disciplined for his actions.