A judge on Monday declared a mistrial in Orange County’s high-profile gang-rape case after jurors lamented they were “hopelessly deadlocked” over charges that three young men victimized an apparently unconscious 16-year-old girl in a Newport Beach mansion.
The case, which has riveted Orange County for months, was built around a videotape of the incident made by the defendants, who include the son of a wealthy Corona del Mar businessman and top assistant to Sheriff Michael S. Carona.
Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseno ended the trial on the third day of deliberations after the four-woman, eight-man jury sent him a note reporting that it had reached an impasse.
The judge then polled the jurors in his Santa Ana courtroom as to whether further deliberations would help. “Not a chance,” said one, apparently reflecting a unanimous view.
Outside the courthouse, two jurors said many on the panel were strongly influenced by defense arguments.
“The defense provided a better case of doubt than the prosecution did of guilt,” said one 39-year-old juror, who spoke on the condition that he not be named.
Said another, who identified himself only as Michael, 22, of Garden Grove: “The evidence was real weak, which is one of the reasons we couldn’t come to a decision. There was too much he-said, she-said.”
While defense attorneys exulted over the ruling, prosecutors strongly suggested that they would seek to retry the three defendants.
“It would take pretty strong information for us not to refile,” said district attorney spokeswoman Susan Kang Schroeder, adding that no decision had been made.
“Sometimes, when you present evidence to a different jury, they come up with a different decision. I wouldn’t put too much stock in what one jury has to say,” she said.
All three defendants and the alleged victim lived in Rancho Cucamonga at the time. The defendants -- Gregory Scott Haidl, 18, son of Orange County Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl, as well as Kyle Joseph Nachreiner and Keith James Spann, both 19 -- were charged with drugging and raping the girl one night in July 2002 at the senior Haidl’s Corona del Mar home.
If convicted on all counts, the three could have each been given up to 55 years in prison for raping the girl and sexually assaulting her with objects including a pool cue and a lighted cigarette.
The defendants recorded the encounter on a videotape that Briseno found so inflammatory that he barred the press and public from viewing it. Over 15 hours of deliberation, jurors had asked to view the tape again three times.
The majority of testimony -- much of it involving sordid details about the sex lives of out-of-control teens -- revolved around whether the girl had been conscious during the alleged assault.
Prosecutors contended that she had been drugged and was unable to consent to the sex acts; defense lawyers argued that she was faking unconsciousness in an encounter that was consensual. They also argued that the videotape may have been tampered with.
Jurors told Briseno they were unable to agree on any of the 24 counts. Final votes ranged from 11-1 for acquittal on some counts, to 8-3 in favor of conviction, with one juror undecided.
The main reason for the wide range of opinions, said the juror named Michael, was that much of the evidence -- including the videotape and testimony from medical experts -- could be viewed from either the prosecution or defense point of view.
“Ambiguity ran rampant through the entire case,” he said. “I would understand why some people could view [the incident] as a crime. I could understand why some people would view this as a misunderstanding. That’s basically why we had a mistrial.”
The videotape, he said, “was not, in my opinion, sufficiently convincing. Compelling, but not convincing.”
Michael said he was strongly influenced by evidence that the girl had been drinking on the night of the incident, which could have affected her memory, and that the defense successfully raised doubts about her credibility.
Deliberations focused quickly on the girl’s level of intoxication and whether she had possessed the ability to make decisions, the other juror said.
“Jurors on both sides were very emphatic that this was their viewpoint, and their viewpoint wouldn’t change,” the juror said. “We knew at that point we were going to have a difficult time in this case.”
Reaction to Monday’s mistrial was as divergent as the jury’s conclusions.
Sheldon Lodmer, a civil attorney representing the alleged rape victim, called the deadlock “a miscarriage of justice. I find it difficult to understand that kind of a verdict.” Lodmer said he intends to file a civil suit against the defendants regardless of whether the district attorney refiles criminal charges.
Briseno set a hearing for Aug. 6, at which a retrial date will be set should the district attorney seek to pursue the case. In the meantime, said Schroeder, prosecutors will review the jurors’ comments and any evidence they were not allowed to introduce at trial. They also will consider trying the defendants separately, she said.
Her office’s sympathy is for the victim, she said. “Our hearts go out to her for what she’s suffered, both on July 6 and in the past two years.”
Defense attorneys said they were disappointed that no decision was made, but relieved at the outcome.
“I think it would be very difficult to get 12 honest people to agree on a verdict,” said lawyer John D. Barnett. “I don’t think they will be able to agree because of the emotional component.”
There was, however, no ambivalence in the reactions of the defendants. As the mistrial was announced, all three looked shell-shocked. Haidl began shaking just before his parents gathered him in a group hug. Relatives scattered throughout the courtroom sobbed and embraced, and cellphones started ringing as family members called for updates.
“He’s coming home,” sobbed Nachreiner’s mother, Judy Miller, to her sister.
Nachreiner said he was “just happy to get to go home.” He was crying, he said, out of relief.
“Tomorrow I’ll be able to wake up and not worry about whether my life’s in the jurors’ hands,” he said.
Regarding the threat of retrial, Nachreiner said, “I’ll cross that bridge when it comes.
“I wish to God there would have been [an acquittal] so it would truly be over.”
His advice to other teens: “Be safe. Always think about consequences before you take any type of action.”
Times staff writers David Haldane and Kevin Pang contributed to this report.