NASHVILLE (CN) – Declaring a mistrial in the Vanderbilt University rape case that ended months ago in a conviction, a judge cited one of the jurors is a statutory-rape survivor.
Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey were found guilty in January of four counts of aggravated rape, two counts of aggravated sexual battery, and one count of attempted aggravated rape.
Vandenburg was also convicted of one count of tampering with evidence and one count of unlawful photography.
But Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins declared a mistrial Tuesday based on his finding that a juror failed to disclose that he was the key witness and named victim in an unrelated statutory-rape case.
“The court finds it difficult to believe that being named a victim in a twenty three count statutory rape indictment in State vs. Swift never crossed Juror #9’s mind,” Watkins wrote. “This is so, because Juror #9 underwent approximately eighteen months of counseling, the family purchased a home security system to help him feel safe from threats, and his mother’s victim impact statement made during sentencing indicated that the case caused significant turmoil within the family.”
“These facts show that it would be difficult to believe that Juror #9 did not consider his involvement in a statutory rape case when sexual assault, rape, and unwanted sexual touching [were] mentioned over one hundred and four times during the course of voir dire,” the judge added.
Watkins said the juror, who volunteered to be foreman and read the verdict to Vandenburg and Batey, showed bias by concealing information. The judge accordingly ordered a new trial.
“Voir dire is an old French term meaning ‘to speak the truth’… the court finds that Juror #9 failed to do just that,” Watkins wrote. “The defendants have a right to a fair and impartial trial, a right that was violated by Juror #9’s misconduct. By failing to disclose being the named victim in a twenty three count statutory rape indictment, the presumption of jury bias was met,” Watkins wrote. “Considering all of the circumstances outlined herein, actual bias has been clearly shown. Our system of justice cannot tolerate a trial with a tainted juror regardless of the strength of the evidence against the defendant[s].”
Bonds for Vandenburg and Batey were reinstated Wednesday morning, according to a report in the Tennessean newspaper.
Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk said in a statement provided to Courthouse News that he hopes for a new trial as soon as possible.
“We respect the judge’s decision. This was an issue that fortunately does not come up very often. It serves to strike home the importance of the jury selection process. This office will be requesting that a new trial date be set as soon as possible,” Funk said. “This ruling does not, in any way, affect the evidence that exists; nor does it affect the state’s resolve to vigorously pursue justice in this matter. Justice may be delayed but it will not be denied. Anything further will be addressed in court.”
Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson said his detectives and police officers will be ready to testify again.
“The resolve of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department to seek justice on behalf of the courageous victim in this case is as strong today as when the investigation began,” Anderson said in a statement. “Lead detectives Jason Mayo, Chad Gish and Sgt. Mike Shreeve, along with the men and women of the police department who supported them, will absolutely be prepared to again present their findings in future legal proceedings as necessary.”
Sunny Eaton, attorney for the juror in question, Todd Easter, said in a statement to WSMV that he did not lie but is sorry about the mistrial.
“Mr. Easter stands by his original statement that he neither lied nor intentionally misrepresented himself during the jury selection process,” Eaton said. “He has immense remorse about the impact this is having on the victim and parties involved. Out of respect for the victim, Mr. Easter declines to make any further statements at this time.”
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