A Chesterfield County Circuit Court judge angrily declared a mistrial
in a tense sexual-abuse case yesterday after learning of possible bias within the jury.
Judge Frederick G. Rockwell III dismissed the five-man, sevenwoman jury late in the afternoon and chastised the panel for its apparent untruthfulness, for wasting taxpayers' money and for chilling the defendant's and a young accuser's right to a fair trial.
"The only way that this system works is if people tell the truth," Rockwell said from the bench, his face reddening and his voice rising.
Uncertain yesterday was the likelihood of another trial for retired Virginia State Police Capt. Edward L. Hope Jr., 56, who had been on trial for two days on three charges each of rape, sodomy and sexual penetration of a minor child over a three-year period. Three of the original charges were dropped yesterday.
Hope could have received multiple life terms if convicted.
The 34-year law-enforcement veteran had no comment after the mistrial was declared. His lawyer, Craig S. Cooley, called the turn of events "a huge disappointment that I've never seen the like of before."
The family of the girl, now 13, wept openly at the decision and huddled together for about 20 minutes in a witness room. They declined to comment and walked from the courthouse in stunned silence, harboring the girl.
She had withstood a grueling session on the witness stand Monday, when she recalled her ordeal with what Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney M. Duncan Minton Jr. told the jury was "horrible, horrific detail."
"It is painful to hear," he told the jury in his closing argument. "But it is the truth, and it is how we know that the defendant is guilty."
Yesterday, Hope took the stand and repeatedly denied ever having engaged in any sexual activity with the child. "Absolutely not," he answered repeatedly to a barrage of questions from Cooley.
The abuse, according to the charges that remained yesterday, stemmed from alleged daily sexual encounters that began when the girl was in second grade and lasted for three years.
Rockwell ordered the mistrial about 15 minutes after the jury signaled that it had finished deliberations at 4:45 p.m., about 3½ hours after beginning a discussion of the case behind closed doors.
The judge received a handwritten note from one juror before the panel emerged into the courtroom. The note said the jury was at an impasse that had been reached despite apparent conflicts of interest among three jurors.
The one-page note said one juror knew details of Hope's arrest that were not mentioned
at trial, that another juror had been "falsely accused" by a juvenile
and had been questioned by police, and that a third juror's wife had been molested and the juror has a "preconceived notion" about how individuals would react in such a situation.
Rockwell and attorneys in the case spent about two hours Monday questioning 26 potential jurors about any knowledge they might have about the case. Questions dealt with any associations jurors had had with law enforcement, crime or possible bias. Jurors were not publicly identified and were addressed only by number.
Cooley said the judge and the attorneys in the case agreed that any effort to determine the truthfulness of the juror's note would further diminish the panel's ability to preserve any impartiality, so all parties agreed to end the proceedings with a mistrial.