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Ex-public defender: Mistrial in murder case could cost county more than $50,000

BY ERIC MOORE | SEPTEMBER 28, 2011 7:20 AM


The state may have to spend upwards of $50,000 to retry homicide suspect Charles William Curtis Thompson, according to a former head of the Public Defender's Office for Johnson County.

Sixth District Judge Sean McPartland approved the defense's motion for mistrial Tuesday, following a failure of the prosecution to remove portions of a video interview shown to the jury.

Thompson, 19, was charged in connection with the October 2009 shooting of John Versypt, a landlord at 1958 Broadway. The defense said Thompson was at his girlfriend's Broadway apartment at the time of the slaying.

 

The motion involved pieces of the interview — recorded four days after the murder — in which special agent Richard Rahn told Thompson investigators had evidence connecting him to the crime, that his story didn't match up with other witnesses stories, and they knew he was responsible for an unrelated shooting in Michigan.

"Our investigation has shown beyond reasonable doubt that you are responsible for the death of John Versypt," Rahn said in the video. "All these things come together, and I have to assemble the puzzle. And you're the final piece."

Thompson watched the interview closely and continued staring at the screen even after officials stopped the video.

Just after Rahn began to discuss the Michigan incident — which was supposed to be removed — Johnson County prosecutor Janet Lyness rose from her seat and attempted to pause the video.

Defense attorney Tyler Johnston's facial expressions became extremely tense, and he removed his glasses after Lyness showed the video.

"A lot of time and effort's been put in this trial. There is no un-ringing this bell, there is no fixing this," Johnston said. "[It's] clearly impermissible. It's not even accurate, and it has prevented my client now from having a fair trial."

The prosecution responded by asking the court to deny the motion for mistrial. Lyness said the audio in the clip was "difficult to understand" and "stopped before the jury heard too much."

After deliberating the motion for two hours, McPartland ruled on the mistrial, citing similar cases for comparison while making his decision.

"I think that it is reasonable to believe that one or more jurors may have heard the statement," McPartland said. "With reluctance, I conclude that the nature of the influence on jury is possible, and it could influence the deliberation of the jury."

Deputy Attorney General Thomas Henry Miller attributed the prosecution's error to "pressure of time."

"There were efforts to redact on the fly yesterday," he said. "We intend to move forward with the prosecution of this defendant and any other individual who we feel to be responsible for the murder of John Versypt."

Miller said Thompson has 90 days to be tried again.

Johnston said he didn't want juries to be confused by what was said in the interview.

"What investigators say in the course of an interview isn't true … it's a standard tactic that they use," he said.

Johnston said Thompson "wanted to keep going" and that he was "anxious to get up on the stand and tell them what happened."

But the case is closed for now, and because both the county attorney and public defender are state-funded, the lack of resolution in the case may be troublesome for taxpayers.

Richard Klausner, the former head of the Johnson County Public Defender's Office, said there's many different things to figure into determining the cost of a homicide trial.

"The second time around is somewhat cheap in that a lot of the discovery has been done," he said. "If I were to add it up, I would come down way above $100,000 at the low end."

Klausner said this figure is a rough estimate and a "generously low number," adding most public defenders ask for at least a $50,000 retainer. He said the number would also be higher, due to the prosecution's using three attorneys on the case. The cost of custody for Thompson during this time served would also need to be taken into account, Klausner said.

After the proceedings, Johnston said he was unsure whether the new trial would be held in Johnson County, because of the media coverage surrounding the case.


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