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Mistrial Is Denied in Night Stalker Trial : Ruling Comes Amid Hints That Jury May Be Nearing a Verdict

Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles judge denied a final defense motion for a mistrial Tuesday in the Night Stalker case, thus clearing the way for a verdict in the serial-murder case.

The ruling by Superior Court Judge Michael A. Tynan came on the 13th day of jury deliberations amid hints that jurors may be nearing a verdict.

Lawyers for defendant Richard Ramirez had sought to disqualify the jury, essentially on grounds that it can no longer deliberate in a fair and dispassionate manner as a result of the mid-August murder of one of the jurors.

Juror Found Slain

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On Aug. 14, after more than two weeks of deliberations, juror Phyllis Y. Singletary was found slain in her Carson apartment. Authorities said she was the victim of a quarrel with her boyfriend, James C. Melton, who later committed suicide.

Her slaying clearly upset many of the 11 jurors and eight alternates, and raised questions as to whether jurors could continue deliberating the case.

But after a brief interview with jury foreman Felipe Rodriguez, Tynan ruled on Aug. 16 that the panel seemed able to go on, and an alternate juror was selected randomly as Singletary’s replacement. Deliberations began anew that afternoon.

California law requires that jury deliberations start from scratch any time a juror is replaced by an alternate. A mistrial in the case would have required the trial to begin anew.

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Jury selection in the case began July 21, 1988, and the actual trial commenced Jan. 30. In all, 684 pieces of evidence were introduced.

Held in Adjacent Cell

Ramirez waived his right to be present in the courtroom for Tuesday’s brief court session. But the proceedings were piped by microphone into an adjacent lockup cell where he was held.

Until Tuesday, the newly constituted jury has been quietly reviewing the evidence without asking any questions or making any requests whatever, going about its business quietly each day from 9:30 a.m. until about 3:45 p.m.

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Late last week, foreman Rodriguez sent Tynan a note saying that jurors would like to review a videotape of the September, 1985, police lineup at which Ramirez was identified by many of his alleged victims.

During the trial, defense attorneys had alleged that police at the lineup had surreptitiously signaled Ramirez’s position in the six-person lineup to the witnesses. In addition, they also contended that a tiny bald spot on the back of Ramirez’s head--an injury he suffered during his capture by citizens in East Los Angeles--further made him stand out in the lineup.

The jury request for the lineup video indicated that jurors may have finished reviewing the evidence in each of the 15 alleged Night Stalker incidents and now are focusing on the post-arrest phase of the case.

Ramirez, 29, is charged with 13 murders and 30 other felonies arising from a series of residential, nighttime burglaries throughout Los Angeles County, mostly in the spring and summer of 1985.

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