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Mistrial Is Declared in Case of Man Who Shot His Daughter

The jury is unable to reach a verdict on the San Clemente resident. Jurors thought the shooting didn't warrant a felony charge.

October 17, 2003|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

An Orange County judge declared a mistrial Thursday in the case against a man accused of negligence in the accidental shooting of his daughter after jurors failed in a last attempt to reach a verdict.

The panel of eight women and four men deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of acquitting Jeffrey West, 35, of San Clemente of felony child endangerment when he accidentally fired a 12-gauge shotgun at his 8-year-old daughter, Madison West, in September 2002.

After nearly 1 1/2 days of deliberations, jurors said they tried for an additional 90 minutes Thursday to sway the holdout.

West will learn Nov. 14 whether he will be tried again.

West was sitting on the side of the bathtub, loading and unloading his new shotgun when it accidentally discharged, striking Madison. The girl, now 9 and in the care of her mother, lost a kidney and most of one arm. The blast also damaged a lung.

During the weeklong trial, Deputy Dist. Atty. Karen Schatzle argued that West had acted recklessly when he took the gun into the bathroom and left three other loaded guns unlocked around the house and car.

West's attorney, Robison Harley, contended that he did not intentionally hurt his daughter and kept the weapons in the house for protection after his home had been burglarized.

After Superior Court Judge Patrick Donahue announced the ruling in his Santa Ana courtroom, West's former wife, Genielle West, and a friend shook their heads in disagreement. Jurors said they grew frustrated and got into arguments that escalated into personal attacks.

They even wrote a note to the judge seeking the removal of the holdout because he was "opinionated, refused to listen and did not cooperate," said juror Doug Moore, 54, of Buena Park.

The jurors did not submit the letter because they decided that it was not their decision to make, Moore said.

Jurors said they would have convicted West on a misdemeanor charge, but that his actions did not warrant a felony charge.

"This guy has to live with himself for the rest of his life," Moore said. "We wanted to make sure he was going to get something, but we didn't feel it was a felony. It was a mistake in judgment, and there's no law to punish misjudgment."

Juror Lee Burnett, 53, of Anaheim and other jurors said the girl had moved just before the shotgun went off.

"She was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Burnett said. "He didn't want to hurt her."

The holdout, the 38-year-old jury foreman, said he believed West was reckless for taking a gun into the bathroom while Madison was there. He said he felt pressured by panel members to change his vote but stuck with the definition of the law.

"The wording of the law was rather vague. It was the heart of the impasse," the juror said. He declined to give his name, fearing for his safety. He was escorted from the building by court officials.

West, who has been laid off as a security alarm salesman, hugged family members and friends after the verdict was announced.

"I'm frustrated because I feel my life is on hold. It has been a nightmare," he said. "But I was relieved and it gives me a lot of hope if I have to go through it again."

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