Judge Christopher Wilson has denied a defense motion to dismiss felony animal cruelty charges against Arcata rancher Ray Christie, whose second jury trial is now set for August.
This afternoon Wilson heard and rejected arguments from defense attorney John Cogorno, who said Wilson wrongly dismissed a juror in Christie’s December 2019 trial. Cogorno also argued Wilson should have accepted the partial verdict the jury reached before the miscreant juror was kicked off the panel. Instead she was replaced by an alternate, and the jury scrapped six days of deliberations and started over.
Notes the jury sent to Wilson during the trial revealed Juror No. Five was discussing what punishment Christie might face, which jurors are not supposed to consider. Also, Juror No. Five said she was going to just randomly acquit Christie on half the charges and convict him on the other half.
“I’ve never seen a more clear example of juror misconduct in my 22 years on the bench,” Wilson said during a sometimes-heated exchange with Cogorno. The judge said his only regret was not removing her earlier, but judges generally take a “hands-off” approach to a deliberating jury.
Wilson said the jury was indeed tainted on the issue of penalty and punishment, and he placed the blame for that on Cogorno’s opening statement in the trial.
“Let me remind you what you said,” Wilson told Cogorno. “You said FEL-O-KNEE!’“
Revealing that Christie was charged with felonies was a clear attempt to influence the jury, the judge said, and it appeared to work. When the jury finally did return verdicts, they were able to make decisions on the misdemeanor charges but not the felonies.
Christie was convicted of 26 misdemeanor counts of dumping cattle carcasses within 150 feet of state waters. The jury hung — 11 to one for guilt — on the four felony animal cruelty charges.
The animal cruelty charges were filed after law enforcement found cows that were starving or in otherwise poor condition on property Christie owned or leased around the county. Officers also found many, many cow corpses and skeletal remains.
Cogorno argued Wilson should have declared a mistrial instead of removing Juror No. 5, whom Cogorno claimed was bullied by the jury forewoman because the forewoman was tired of deliberating and “wanted to get back to her busy day.”
Also, Cogorno said the forewoman didn’t like the verdicts because things “weren’t going her way.”
Wilson then pointed out that the verdicts the defense wanted him to accept were all verdicts of guilty. Cogorno said he hadn’t known what the verdicts were, only that the jury had agreed on some counts but not others.
When the jury — without the errant juror and including the new member — reached its verdict, the only one who didn’t vote to convict Christie was the alternate.
Today after Wilson denied the motion to dismiss, Cogorno said he plans to “take up a writ (to the Court of Appeal.)”
“That’s fine,” Wilson said, although he questioned whether Cogorno had any issues to raise on appeal. Christie’s retrial is scheduled to begin for Aug. 9.
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