BURLEY • A Cassia County judge declared a mistrial Wednesday for a former Oakley teacher charged with child sex crimes after a jury commissioner made inappropriate comments to the jury panel.
Crabtree granted the mistrial for Alvin Andrew before the trial started at the state’s request. Andrew is charged with two felony counts of lewd conduct with a child under 16 and sexual abuse of a child under 16.
“That procedure of the jury commissioner making comments is so highly irregular and so far outside the scope of what is authorized by rule or statute. The immediate appearance of impropriety is so overwhelming that I can’t find a way at this point to correct that,” said Cassia County 5th District Judge Michael Crabtree.
The court will hold a status hearing on a new trial at 9:30 a.m. June 12 and ultimately select a new jury to hear the case.
“Her comments were directed toward the importance of the defendant’s presumption of innocence. How important this trial was to him. And that it was an important day for the defendant,” said Blaine Cannon, Cassia County deputy prosecutor. “The court reporter was in here and heard those comments being made.”
Cannon said the comments were stressed as important and repeated several times.
Due to the type of case, Cannon said, the outcome hinged on the jury’s assessment of credibility rather than physical evidence.
The state’s prosecution of the case was put at a disadvantage and Cannon said he wonders if similar comments have been made during other trials.
“It’s extremely distracting to me. I’m thinking about trying to do an opening statement and suddenly I have to think and be concerned about how this affects the trial, how it affects my ability, does it change my strategy,” Cannon said. “The plaintiff and witnesses are entitled to a fair trial, the people of the state and community are entitled to a fair trial and I can’t give that to them; it’s impossible. I’ve never had anything like this happen and I just don’t know how to deal with it. And the only way to fix it is to start over and make sure we don’t have a jury commissioner who makes those kinds of comments.”
Cassia County Clerk Joe Larsen, who oversees the court staff, said he could not comment Wednesday on whether any disciplinary action will be taken against the jury commissioner.
“It is currently under review and will be dealt with in a judicious fashion,” Larsen said.
Cannon said comments of this nature coming from a county employee could be construed by jurors to imply that the county employee has knowledge about the case.
“This case is obviously important to both sides. It’s a life-changing event. Both sides are entitled to a fair trial,” Cannon said.
Andrew’s attorney Kent Jensen argued against the mistrial saying he did not find the jury commissioner’s comments out of the ordinary.
Crabtree said the county will be liable for picking up the defense’s expenses, including bringing in an expert witness who was due to arrive Wednesday.
Andrew taught math and science at Oakley High School. Andrew was charged after he allegedly had sexual contact with a 14-year-old female at the school in May 2007.