San Jose: Jury sobs when mistrial declared in Xia Zhao murder case
By Tracey Kaplan
Posted: 08/04/2010 10:06:51 PM PDT
Eleven jurors were so certain accused killer Jason Cai was guilty of viciously gunning down a lawyer to prevent her from representing his late wife's family in a lawsuit against him that they implored a judge this week to remove the lone holdout on their panel for misconduct.
But 90 minutes after Judge Marc Poche ruled Wednesday there wasn't enough evidence to replace the juror with an alternate, the jury sent him its 17th and final note on the matter -- reporting they could agree only on one thing.
"We unanimously agree," the note read, "that we cannot agree on a verdict."
A mistrial was declared to the bitter disappointment of the victim's husband and father -- and to the 11 jurors, many of whom thronged the family outside the courthouse, sobbing and wailing, "I'm sorry," "I'm sorry," "We tried so hard." Some of the three men and eight women in the group of 11 had said Juror No. 6 had fallen asleep during the trial and refused to deliberate.
The jury's unusually public struggle and the subsequent mistrial was all the more extraordinary because it was the second time Cai was accused of killing someone -- only to avoid being convicted when a jury deadlocked.
Prosecutor Brian Welch, who will try the case again, said he was baffled by Juror No. 6's decision to vote not guilty in the face of overwhelming, albeit circumstantial, evidence that Cai had stalked and threatened Zhao. He was accused of ultimately gunning her down in a parking lot at such close range that the gun muzzle left an imprint on her chest. A man who closely resembled Cai was caught on videotape immediately after the shooting fleeing down Hamilton Avenue, but he was never positively identified as Cai.
In interviews this week with the judge -- many behind closed doors -- jurors testified the lone holdout refused to adequately explain her decision. Many tried to make the case that she refused to deliberate at all, saying she hardly spoke during the post-trial meetings, and had expressed impatience with the process even before deliberations began, wanting it to be over "before August." One juror described her as "belligerent." Another said she accepted as fact only things that both attorneys agreed on, including that it was the killer who was captured on videotape.
The Mercury News obtained a transcript of the closed-door interviews Wednesday, the day after unsuccessfully raising constitutional objections to the public's exclusion.
According to the transcript, Juror No. 6 admitted she was "absolutely struggling" in the second week of the trial to stay awake. But she added she wasn't the only one.
"But then I think I saw you asleep at least once," she told the judge, "and I know I saw the deputy asleep."
The juror said she only dozed off once for a brief period of time. Another juror said he had to poke her awake twice during the trial, and several others said she appeared sleepy. But she said she started taking caffeine "all day" and quickly became alert.