The trial of a Lawrence man accused of murdering his 5-month-old daughter took a surprising turn Thursday when attorneys said they'd discovered new evidence and the judge declared a mistrial.
Thursday was expected to be the last day of testimony in the trial of Jay D. Decker, 27, who is charged with killing his infant daughter, Risha Lafferty, last fall at Edgewood Homes in east Lawrence. But before the day's testimony began - just as prosecutors were about to call their last witness - attorneys went behind closed doors to talk with Judge Paula Martin.
When they came out, Martin declared a mistrial, sent jurors home and scheduled a new trial for Nov. 13.
Family members expressed frustration with the outcome.
"Everybody's got to go through it all over again," said Marie Hyatt, Decker's mother.
Judge Martin, defense attorneys and prosecutors all declined to talk about details of what happened during the closed-door hearing - other than that the defense moved for a mistrial based on "newly discovered evidence," and prosecutors didn't oppose the request.
What that evidence is or how it came to light remains a mystery to the public. Dist. Atty. Charles Branson said the evidence was something his office simply didn't have when the trial began Monday, but he said he couldn't elaborate on it because of concerns about pre-trial publicity for Decker's next trial.
"Information was received during the trial that was not in the possession of the DA's office or the defendant," Branson said. "Mr. Decker will stand trial for this crime."
More about the trial
- 6News video: New evidence causes mistrial in Decker case
- Mother testifies in murder trial (08-02-06)
- 6News video: Testimony begins in Decker trial (08-01-06)
- Photos at issue in child's death (07-15-06)
- Judge delays trial in infant's death (05-13-06)
- Mom's plea hearing set in endangerment case (03-11-06)
- Coroner: 5- month-old suffered repeated abuse (02-18-06)
After the mistrial, Judge Martin denied a request to lower Decker's $250,000 bond. He remains in the Douglas County Jail.
Prosecutors allege Risha suffered repeated child abuse while Decker baby sat her during the day. Coroner Erik Mitchell, who was set to be the state's last witness, has previously testified that she had a fractured skull, 35 bruises or other external injuries, and signs of being shaken after her Oct. 14 death.
Defense attorneys had argued that Risha's mother, Brandi Mae Hendrickson, deserved more scrutiny and had more opportunities to harm the child in the hours before her death. But both Hendrickson and Decker maintain they never intentionally harmed Risha.
"We completely believe in him, and we do not believe he did anything abusive to his children, ever," Decker's sister, Nichole Davis, said outside the courtroom Thursday.
Mistrials can be declared for a number of reasons - a juror doing something improper, an inappropriate statement by an attorney, an inability by the jury to reach a verdict - but they're fairly unusual in District Court.
A 2005 Journal-World story analyzing trial outcomes found there had been three mistrials in felony cases in Douglas County in the first 10 months of that year.
Despite the family's frustrations, Branson said the goal of the process was to ensure the right outcome - something he said could only be reached if both sides have all the information they need.
Decker's court-appointed attorneys, Mark Manna and Tom Bartee, both declined to discuss the new evidence.