Archive for Friday, August 4, 2006

Judge declares a mistrial in murder case

August 4, 2006


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."

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.


Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 5 months ago

well I hope this does not drag out more, I do not think it will serve any one for this to go on for years.

dozer 11 years, 5 months ago

WOW! A case from 7 years ago, that is hard evidence of a "track record". Good work enforcer.

lizzyp13 11 years, 2 months ago

The truth as been told to them...but so many lies from the other side unfortunately make things cloudy and so, so very unfair.

Steve Mechels 11 years, 5 months ago

consumer1, this is America; remember he is innocent until proven guilty.

wyandotwoman 11 years, 5 months ago

This individual needs to be tried by an impartial jury and judge and put away where he belongs. As for grandmother, her comments only reflect the bias of the judge on this case, whose track record for setting perps "free" and blaming the victim is well known. Prosecutors have an uphill battle before this prejudiced judge. In fact, the Lawrence Community ought to be asking themselves why Paula Martin is still allowed to preside over cases involving perverts, molesters and baby killers when her modus operandi is to blame single mothers and victims and release perps back into the community.

The only thing she has learned from her last go-round in appeals court is to be "very very careful" so she is no longer reversed on appeal. Pathetic.

dozer 11 years, 5 months ago

Wyandot - what is Martin's "track record"? Other than the rape sentence two years ago, which was reversed on appeal, what other cases has she shown a bias in sentencing? How is she sending perps back into our community?

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 5 months ago

well the fact is all of law. has to wait till nov. for the do over. at least bail was not reduced so I would say he is staying put for now. But it would be nice to know what all this is about but I guess we will all have to wait.

Ceallach 11 years, 5 months ago

I think this mean that the plea agreement the DA foolishly entered into with the woman who gave birth to the victim is no longer in effect. Do any of you know if that is true?

For justice to be served she should be required to account for what she did to the child (or according to her testimony) did not do to help the child during the periods when she was "minding her own business." I can't bring myself to call her a "mother" !!

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 5 months ago

was that not the most sick comment you have heard from a "mom". I just wanted to go find her and beat the holy crap out of her.

joshs_mom 11 years, 5 months ago

consumer1--I have to agree, I can't believe Decker's family has the nerve to complain. I wonder how Brandi Hendrickson's family feels. Or Brandi's parents. Risha was their grandchild. They had to see the quote where Brandi says she was just minding her own business. If they had any sense at all they would be as outraged as the rest of us. (or who knows-maybe Brandi learned her "wonderful" parenting skills from her parents. )

christie 11 years, 5 months ago

You all had your chance to boot this judge out of office but like 75% of an apathetic population you didn't bother to vote because someone else would do it for you.

YOU get what you pay for ( or vote for ) in this world.

So... how do you like it?

joshs_mom 11 years, 5 months ago

If I was a Douglas county resident I would have voted her out.

We've got enough bad judges here in Shawnee county to worry about. (And yes, I DO vote. )

I don't think people should complain if they won't go out and vote.

However, I don't really think too many people here are complaining. This case is just horrible, and it brings out emotions.

reginafliangie 11 years, 5 months ago

Christie, did you do a pole of the posters? Is 75% correct of all of us?? I hardly think so. I vote every single time. Please don't generalize. You have no idea who here has voted or who hasn't.

corrienteroper 11 years, 5 months ago

Well Joshs_mom, since you don't know the family's, you really shouldn't say anything at all. I have no doubt that you have your own skeletons in your closet, we all do. You just haven't done anything criminal to bring them out. Yours may not be as bad as the Hendrickson family skeletons, but I bet you have some good ones too.

Since you don't hear from the Hendrickson family, did it occur to you that maybe they would rather not be in the limelight, unlike the Decker family? And did it occur to you that perhaps they truely are upset about the whole thing, therefore they keep to themselves?

daman 11 years, 5 months ago

Martin does have a "track record" on being soft on sex offenders and drug dealers. In addition to the infamous rape case where she was overturned by the court of appeals on her sentencing of the rapists to probation, she put a meth cook on probation where he was cooking meth in a trailer with two small children living there. He found "god" and she bought it. What about the guy (Trimble) who injured 13 people outside Brothers by shooting his gunn off into a crowd. She completely botched that case by claiming she was "duty bound" to accept a plea even though the State informed her more serious charges were warranted. A few years ago she dismissed a case where a guy shot a girl several times in the back and he absconded to Oklahoma. Martin dismissed it because she was mad the prosecutor missed a scheduling conference (a curtosey hearing). She never sends drug dealers to prison or even one day of jail unless she absolutely has to and will depart from the sentencing guidelines if given a chance. Then there is how she treats attorneys in her courtroom, like they work for her. She makes them sit around and wait all day to for a five minute hearing and then slashes their bill. Most good attorneys have gotten off the appointment list for that very reason, leaving the young and inexperienced to represent defendants. But if you are a juror in her courtroom, she treats you like gold because she knows if she's nice to you then hopefully you won't look into her "track record" when it comes time to vote. She provides a lot of job security to the police and attorneys, but when it comes to protecting the community, forget about it. Then again, what do I know, I'm just a citizen monitoring our judicial system like most of you.

lilsuzy 11 years, 5 months ago

I did vote to throw this judge out and is it just me or is she associated with every screwed up case in Lawrence? I went in front of her over a landlord dispute and I thought she was dismissive and rude. Just my 2 cents, but she seems like she is in the wrong line of work. As far as abusing your kids or anyone else's? I have no sympathy, crimes against kids is just something I can't tolerate, no matter what the circumstances.

mom_of_three 11 years, 5 months ago

After reading some of the testimony, I feel they are both to blame, and maybe now, both parents will be brought to justice.

badger 11 years, 5 months ago

Yeah, but regina, given the low voter turnout, it's a safe assumption that not everyone who complains about Judge Martin actually got off his nether cheeks and acted on those complaints at the last opportunity.

If all you've got is a seven-year-old case and one more case turned over on appeal, your own case for her 'bias' is pretty weak, honestly. Anyone wanna take bets on how long before we see some links to that 'other' forum telling us all about it (omb, care to take me up on even odds?)?

wyandotwoman - Way to go not getting bogged down with that whole 'innocent unless proven guilty' nonsense! "Let's try him and put him away..." Judge Dredd for the win!

Y'know, if she's learned to be 'very very careful' so she doesn't get turned over on appeal, wouldn't that mean she's working towards not making the sorts of decisions that would get overturned, which also happen to be the sorts of decisions people here object to? I mean, if she's trying to structure her rulings so that they're well within what's allowed and acceptable by law, then she'll be less likely to be overturned on appeal. You should be happy she's so concerned about not being overturned on appeal. She's operating in a fishbowl right now.

I'd much rather see a mistrial now and a retrial than a mistrial later and a retrial or a trial, appeal, reversal later. If the information merits a mistrial, proceeding in the case without it could really muck up the works. I mean, if somebody committed perjury or a lab test was done wrong or something like that, that's a big deal.

joshs_mom 11 years, 5 months ago

corrienteroper said "Well Joshs_mom, since you don't know the family's, you really shouldn't say anything at all. I have no doubt that you have your own skeletons in your closet, we all do. You just haven't done anything criminal to bring them out. Yours may not be as bad as the Hendrickson family skeletons, but I bet you have some good ones too. Since you don't hear from the Hendrickson family, did it occur to you that maybe they would rather not be in the limelight, unlike the Decker family? And did it occur to you that perhaps they truely are upset about the whole thing, therefore they keep to themselves?"

You know what, I hope it is the fact they want their privacy that keeps them from speaking out, and not something else. I certainly would not want to be in their shoes right now. And if they want their privacy, then great.

And I know I'm not the best parent in the world, no one is perfect. But I think it's time for the judicial system to send a message. Children are not disposable! If Decker is found guilty, he needs to do hard time. (I would prefer a harsher punishment.)

reginafliangie 11 years, 5 months ago

bader, my point was that christie assumed that 75% of the posters on the thread didn't vote. I was wondering how she got that percent? I wasn't aware there was a count taken on the thread so her generalizing and telling us that we got what we deserved was a little far fetched.

Jamesaust 11 years, 5 months ago

"...why Paula Martin is still allowed...."

Uhh...perhaps because she enjoys the confidence of the community in her judgment as demonstrated by the public via a free and fair vote that wasn't even close? Perhaps her very typical and ordinary professional record of judgments upheld/reversed by the appellate courts? Isn't being "very, very careful" the same thing as "getting it right"?

I guess that's the new word - apathetic - to refuse to accept the peoples' judgment that vague, simplistic, Nancy Grace-like slurs are ill-founded. The Judge didn't retain her chair because too few people bothered to vote against her; she was retained because large numbers of people came to the polls and voted FOR her.

Ironically, many of the people most impressed by the Supreme Court's reversal of the original assembly of facts paired with the law are the least impressed when the same appellate court takes the incompetent Attorney General to a very public woodshed, straining not 'to hold him in contempt' (but merely viewing him with an oh-too-obvious contempt).

As to 20 something men marrying 13 year old girls - hey, that's just Kansas values at work. Kansas may be only state to allow such atrocities but let's be clear: its all legal.

badger 11 years, 5 months ago

regina -

So it's just the use of estimated statistics that bothers you? Got it.

Jamesaust speaks a lot of sense. I forgot how many people were very vocal in support of her at the time. Now, it does seem (because her vocal supporters don't feel the need to defend her when her position isn't endangered, I'd imagine) it seems like a lot more people wanted her gone than wanted her to stay.

I find it kind of funny that some of the people complaining that Judge Martin is still on the bench are the same ones who tell people complaining about President Bush, "You lost. Quit whining and get over it."

dozer 11 years, 5 months ago

just link to another forum enforcer, cause that works everytime. Keep up the good work Monday morning quarterbacking every decision ever made in a courtroom.

Linda Aikins 11 years, 5 months ago

What the heck? The prosecution and the defense both agreed for a mistrial. Judge Martin only approved it.

Good grief. Paula Martin is doing her job, and she was re-elected because the people who support her came to vote. The others didn't.

I like her!

dozer 11 years, 5 months ago

My Wheaties always get brown when people represent opinions as fact.

These blogs are great for asking questions, because there are a number of folks that can give factual answers. And the blog is great for posting your opinion.

But its simply misleading when people post opinion as fact, and that is where I have the issue with the posts.

Bobo Fleming 11 years, 5 months ago

I would say that for a Judge to declare a mistrial this long into the case would have to something very big. This is not usually done after four days of jury trial.

lizzyp13 11 years, 5 months ago

The only reason Hendrickson's family isn't in here is b/c no one supports her. The quote from his mom is b/c they know he didn't do it. Rischa is gone and it hurts everyone. If only you knew how much his family is doing to stay away from the "limelight."

Sigmund 11 years, 5 months ago

If I understand correctly, new evidence uncovered during the trial and immediately turned over to the defense does not require a mistrial. New evidence discovered by the defense does not have to be turned over to the prosecution. Judges HATE mistrials and if possible will bend over backwards to avoid them.

However, IF the prosecution unintentionally or intentionally fails to deliver evidence in its possession prior to trial, a mistrial is almost always granted if requested. So I am left with the conclusion that the DA's office was either negligent in their duty to turn over evidence or was sandbagging the defense. In either case Branson's office does not look good here.

The fact that this happened just prior to the Coroner Erik Mitchell taking the stand leads me to believe that the "newly discovered evidence" may be related to his testimony.

joshs_mom 11 years, 5 months ago

Lizzy- sounds like you know the family. I am sorry for their loss.

Nonsense 11 years, 5 months ago

Sgmund. Why do you say it is the DA's fault when they said that they did not have the info and niether did the defense? LPD perhaps?

Sigmund 11 years, 5 months ago

It is odd that Branson said he did not have the evidence prior to Mondays start of the trial. But if new evidence came to light during the trial all the DA would have to do is disclose the new evidence to the defense, object to the motion for a mistrial, and the Judge probably would not have granted the defense motion. Judges really hate mistrials and unless they are compelled try to find reasons not to grant a mistrial. I guess it is possible that the DA did not object because they wanted a chance to retry the case for other reasons.

On the otherhand, a compelling reason to grant a mistrial occurs when the prosecution fails to disclose evidence that it had prior to trial, either intentionally or unintentionally. The fact that the prosecution did not object to the defense motion led me to the conclusion that it was evidence that the DA had, or should have had, prior to trial.

It is not unheard of that the prosecution will ask an expert witness to delay delivering a report to the prosecution which delays the prosecution duty to turn it over to the defense. This gives the defense less time to go over the evidence. This is called sandbagging. "Oh I just got my expert witnesses report. It was delayed in the interoffice mail, here you go. I now call to the stand ...." Doesn't really give the defense much time to prepare and is tantamount to trial by ambush. Judges hate trial by ambush more than they hate mistrials as it violates some very basic rights of the defendant.

This is all speculation. I have no special inside information about this case. I am probably completely wrong. Yes I'll put down the crack pipe immediately. I am just curious like everyone else and am trying to make some sense of what happened and why.

oldgoof 11 years, 5 months ago

Sigmund speculates.... and wrongly in my mind

Prosecutors too recognize the unfairness of some evidence being discovered too late, albeit innocently. Nothing wrong with agreeing to pull the plug. Prosecutors nor judges like to be overturned. Me thinks all three sides agreed in this call.

Sigmund, are you a member of the bar?

Sigmund 11 years, 5 months ago

There seems to be a general feeling here that this really was a case of lately discovered important evidence and that the defense either needed more time with it or it would significantly change the character of the defense. Further, that the DA's office takes their duty to seek justice above seeking convictions seriously and that it would be significantly unfair to the defendant to proceed. If so both the DA and Judge Martin need to be commended.

I should say I am not a fan of the DA and am even less of a fan of Judge Martin (although I will admit she has become much more circumspect since her recent reversal). Perhaps this is why I am so willing to discount that scenario?

r_man07 11 years, 4 months ago

Hi, Im Brandi's cousin. I think they are both gulity, Jay may have killed Risha, but Brandi didnt report it. And its not like Jay hasnt been abusive before like when Brandi ran off with him and Foxy, Jay had abused Brandi and Foxy then he took Brandi's truck and left them in South Carolina. Im just sad that we lost Risha, my and I family love her and Foxy deeply. Although I hope that the courts do their job and put him away, I know that in the end he will have to face what he has done. And God will give them justice. I dont know how anyone could live with themselves after killing their baby. And it REALLY hurts to know that I can never hold Risha again or watch her grow up. IT REALLY HURTS. And to be honest I would love to see Jay Fry.

JimmyJoeBob 11 years, 3 months ago

Momoftwo, If you have all this inside info have you been to the police and reported it?

momoftwo 11 years, 3 months ago

hey cousin why dont you get your facts straight before u go tellin stories about what u think happened in the lives of other people!!!! I know for a fact that there have been lies told by your precious cousin Brandi, she loves to try and make herself look the part of an innocent victimized girl!!!! Her mother told this story to the police as well and guess what its not being used because its not true, mater of fact your own mother told a completely different story, so why dont u go and ask her the one she told to police ?????? Jay never abused HIS CHILDREN and he never abused ur emotionally & or chemically challenged(bipolar) cousin either!!!!! I think that ur whole family is in denial about what REALLY Happened!!! UR cousin didnt want either of her girls from the get go if shed had her way Risha would've never been born!!!

momoftwo 11 years, 3 months ago

God will give justice! It will be given not only to the people who are directly involved with wrong doing; but to those who are indirectly involved in anything having to do with the demise of others. No matter what form it may be. LIES, are just as harmful as someone who takes their hand in anger against another. So think about that when u think about the people who may or may not have done something, that you think they've done. I was told that God is the Judge of all mankind! So you are right about God giving justice.

comgetsom 11 years, 1 month ago

my question to everyone is has anyone thought how all of this has effected the oldest child the one who has NO BABY SISTER NOW and might loose everyone she knows

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