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Gang-Rape Case Will Be Retried

The Orange County D.A.'s office again targets three teens, one of them the son of a top sheriff's official. Observers recommend adjustments to the strategy.

June 30, 2004|Claire Luna | Times Staff Writer

The day after a jury deadlock triggered a mistrial, the Orange County district attorney's office announced Tuesday that it would refile charges against an assistant sheriff's son and two other teenagers accused of raping an allegedly unconscious 16-year-old girl.

Legal experts and lawyers who followed the high-profile case said they expected a second trial but cautioned prosecutors to take cues from the first jury -- which leaned toward acquittal on nearly every charge -- when restructuring the case.

The key evidence against the defendants, a videotape the youths made of the July 2002 incident, may have falsely lulled prosecutors into thinking a conviction was inevitable, said former federal prosecutor Laurie L. Levenson.

"People really have to learn the lesson that videotapes don't tell the whole story," she said. "You cannot assume that just because there's a videotape of very disturbing conduct that it's going to result in a conviction."

Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said prosecutors may retool the charges against the three defendants. For the first trial, they were charged with rape by intoxication, rape by force and assault with a deadly weapon.

Gregory Scott Haidl, Kyle Joseph Nachreiner and Keith James Spann, all 19, could have been sent to prison for up to 55 years each had they been convicted on all 24 counts. All three, and the alleged victim -- referred to as Jane Doe during the trial -- lived in Rancho Cucamonga at the time of the incident, at the Corona del Mar home of Orange County Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl, the defendant's father.

The jury deadlocked after two months of testimony and 15 hours of deliberations. When the jury foreman announced the jury's breakdown on each count Monday, he indicated that as many as four jurors remained undecided on some counts. On only one charge -- assault with a deadly weapon -- were the jurors evenly split between conviction and acquittal.

In a recent study of 372 state trials in four U.S. cities, the National Center for State Courts found that only 7.5% of the juries deadlocked on all counts, and 12.8% deadlocked on at least one charge.

Often, when juries say they may not be able to reach a verdict, a trial judge will send them back into deliberations. But Orange County Superior Court Judge Francisco P. Briseno immediately declared a mistrial after each member of the four-woman, eight-man jury said further deliberations would not change their minds.

The defendants are set to return to Superior Court Aug. 6 for a pretrial hearing, when they will be arraigned on the new set of charges. There may be a new prosecutor and judge for the second trial. For a case that has attracted national publicity and entails such serious charges, Levenson said, it would have been difficult for prosecutors to decide against a retrial.

"There's a public pressure to pursue the case unless you absolutely don't think you can prove it," she said, because the limelight makes it harder to walk away.

"Second trials are like graduate school," said veteran lawyer Paul Meyer. "Everyone has learned from the process."

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