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O.C. molest case ends in mistrial for ex-GOP aide

Jury can't decide on charges against Jeffrey Nielsen, who worked for Dana Rohrabacher. The D.A. plans to retry case.

March 13, 2007|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

An Orange County jury deadlocked Monday on whether to convict a former congressional aide on charges he molested a 14-year-old boy he met in an Internet chat room, leading the judge to declare a mistrial.

Jurors had deliberated less than three days when they sent a note to Superior Court Judge Craig Robison just before noon Monday saying they could not reach a verdict on any of the six charges against Jeffrey Nielsen.

Paul S. Meyer, the attorney representing Nielsen, said he was "exceptionally disappointed" with the outcome.

"This case deserved a unanimous not-guilty verdict," Meyer said. "We understand that, generally, a majority to a large majority of the jurors agreed with that assessment."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan Hess said it was unfortunate the jury couldn't reach a verdict. He plans to retry the case, after a full review of the trial.

Both sides are due back in court April 6 for further discussions.

Nielsen, 36, was arrested three years ago at his Costa Mesa law office and charged with molesting the teenager, identified in court as John Doe because his identity has been shielded, on three occasions in the spring of 2003: twice at his Ladera Ranch condominium and once at the Westminster mobile home where the teen lived with his family.

It is unlawful in California for an adult to have sex with a person under age 18, even if the sex is consensual.

The trial in Newport Beach's Harbor Court might not have gained intrigue if not for Nielsen's political connections. A USC-trained lawyer, he has worked for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) and local GOP chairman Scott Baugh. Nielsen's father, Ben, is a former Fountain Valley mayor.

During eight days of testimony, Doe and Nielsen offered starkly different accounts about what happened after they met through a website for gay men.

Doe, who has a learning disability that interferes with his comprehension of what he hears and reads, at times came across as forgetful and inconsistent during his three days on the witness stand. He even acknowledged that he had changed his stories and lied as the investigation proceeded. He did this, he testified, out of embarrassment and fear of disappointing his mother, who did not approve of homosexuality, he testified.

Doe said he first had sex with Nielsen on March 30, 2003, the same day of their first phone conversation. Nielsen picked him up at the Westminster Library, not far from the mobile home park where Doe lived, and drove to Nielsen's condo, where they had sex, he testified.

He testified they met two other times and had sex.

Nielsen denied ever having sex with Doe. He testified that the only time they touched is when they shook hands to say goodbye, and that he empathized with a teenager who was threatening to run away or kill himself as he struggled with a homosexual identity that was not accepted by his mother or church.

While on the witness stand, Nielsen acknowledged that he had looked at computer photographs of men having sex with boys, but that he didn't consider it any more exciting than other gay pornography, and that those images were not on his mind when he met with Doe.

At his condo, Nielsen said, the only thing they did was walk his dog. Neighbors testified that they saw the two arrive and that they were never inside the condo for more than a few minutes.

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