Mistrial Declared for Elderly Mother in Solvang ALS Murder Case
Saying he believed jurors were hopelessly deadlocked, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rogelio Flores declared the mistrial in the case of Marjorie Good, 90.
The judge later revealed concerns about possible juror misconduct.
A criminal grand jury handed down indictments against Good and caregiver Wanda Nelson, 63, after hearing evidence over several days last year in the death of Heidi Good on March 25, 2013, saying they conspired to kill the woman.
But defense attorneys countered that a flawed investigation led to charges against the women, and asserted that a ventilator malfunction led to Heidi's death.
Flores ordered Good to return to court March 21 for another hearing, which will be before Judge James Voysey.
“Currently, Ms. Good waived time on the trial through September, so sometime between now and September, we will have to make a decision on whether we’re going to retry her or not,” said Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen, who was filling in Tuesday for trial prosecutor Cynthia Gresser.
In addition to deciding whether to retry Good, prosecutors could reach a plea agreement with the defendant to avoid another lengthy trial.
“To have to go back and retry this case as a murder case, I think, would be a huge miscarriage of justice,” said attorney David Bixby, who represented Good. "She's not a murderer."
“If she is, she has virtually fooled everybody in her life," Bixby added.
A number of witnesses testified that his client was a good mom who loved Heidi and supported her desire to remain alive, Bixby said.
“How anybody could conclude that she’s a murderer is beyond me,” Bixby added.
The jury for the trial that spanned more than three months tried to do the best job it could do, one juror said.
“It was very emotional for a lot of the jurors,” one woman said. “It was hard, it was difficult, very very difficult.”
Last week, a separate jury convicted Nelson of involuntary manslaughter after finding her not guilty of first- and second-degree murder.
On Tuesday, the Good jury of 10 women and two men had returned to the judge several times with questions, and earlier in the day he had directed the panel to continue its deliberations.
Early in the afternoon, Flores and attorneys met with the jurors in private, after which the mistrial was declared.
Later, Flores revealed jurors had seen media coverage of the Nelson jury verdict and discussed the topic in the deliberation room.
Outside the jury’s presence, the judge revealed that the jury had found Good not guilty of first- and second-degree murder but was deadlocked 11 to 1 toward guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
However, the judge did not record those verdicts.
“The issue before the court was that there was a discussion in the jury deliberation room regarding Ms. Nelson’s verdict amongst the (Good) jurors,” Flores said.
“There was some question about whether or not that news media coverage had an impact on the outcome of the deliberations,” Flores added.
Throughout the trial, the judge admonished jurors to refrain from news reports or other information about the case.
Jurors told the judge about accidentally over hearing reports about the verdicts in the Nelson trial via news coverage and a conversation in a restaurant.
In private interviews with the judge and attorneys, the jurors gave differing opinions about the extent of the discussions about the Nelson trial verdict and its influence on Good trial jurors.
However, the judge ruled against reading the verdicts in the jury’s presence, saying it appeared votes were taken Thursday before the discussions about the other jury’s verdict, Flores said.
The Good jury’s verdict forms weren’t signed and dated until Monday — after the discussions about the verdict in Nelson’s trial.
“Had those jury forms been signed on Thursday afternoon, I would have recorded the verdicts today because any discussion of the news media coverage did not appear to occur until Friday morning … according to the discussions we had individually with the jurors,” Flores said.
Bixby objected to Flores determining jury misconduct occurred and declaring a mistrial.
"I don't believe there was any misconduct that rose of the level where he should have discharged the jury, because they had by this time decided against murder," Bixby said outside the courtroom.
The trial was unique because of the separate panels considering fates of the individual defendants.
In another unusual incident Tuesday morning, court officials instructed Nelson, who has been released from jail pending sentencing, to leave the courtroom.
Nelson’s attorney, Lori Pedego, objected to the suggestion made by prosecutors to remove Nelson from the courtroom.
Flores said the request to ask Nelson to sit in the hallway was made out of an abundance of caution.
“This is not personal,” Flores said. “This is just being very pragmatic here trying to keep the scales of justice balanced.”