DA to decide on Baller trial
- Bill Sheehy
- Central Oregonian - News
>The decision whether or not to bring the mother charged with child neglect to a second jury or ask for acquittal will be announced at a status hearing scheduled for April 27It took the six-member jury six hours of deliberation to reach a decision - they could not decide on the guilt of the young woman charged with misdemeanor child neglect. District Attorney Gary Williams has another week or so to decide whether to bring Melissa Baller back for a second trial.
Baller is the young mother of two-year old Christian, the boy who drowned a year ago in the Crooked River. Seven months after the child's death, Williams filed a child neglect charge against the woman. She was brought to trial last week only to end up with a hung jury.
When stating his case against Baller, Williams explained that the evidence he would present would show a clear case of neglect. In making his case, he painted the picture of what he called "a mother who neglected to carefully watch her child," allowing him to wander away from the house while she slept and apparently fall into the river.
Baller's defense attorney, John Hummel, countered that charge with his version - that of a young, poor single mother. The boy's father is, and was at the time of his son)s death, serving a prison sentence.
His client, Hummel asserted was not a perfect mother but not a criminal mother either. In his opening remarks, he told the jury he would not disagree with the district attorney about the facts of the case, "we will disagree what the facts mean," he said. "Melissa is not a criminal, she didn't commit a crime. The evidence will show there is a (lack) of proper care, but not of a crime."
Williams said that he would call quite a number of witnesses to prove his case and that he expected the trial to last two days. But things moved at a faster pace than that and the jury was able to begin its deliberations late in the afternoon of the first day of the trial. Shortly after 9:30 that evening they notified the judge that they were unable to reach an agreement.
It isn't known how the members of the jury voted, or even how many votes were taken, but Williams said it was obvious ... no clear decision was going to be reached. In a trial of this kind, under Oregon law, the jury's decision has to be unanimous.
Without any way of knowing what had stopped the jury from reaching a conclusion, it will be up to Williams to make his decision which will, he said, be based on other factors. That decision will be made in about two weeks. A status hearing has been scheduled for Friday, April 27.
At that time Williams will chose to either set Baller over to a new trial or ask for a dismissal. As the county's District Attorney, the decision is his and his alone. While he hasn't yet made his decision, he said it was clear that both the judge and some of the jury thought there was enough evidence of a crime.
There are two points in the proceedings, Williams explained, when the judge has the power to dismiss a case. "But Judge Gary Thomson didn't do that," the District Attorney said. "He apparently saw enough evidence before the trial began to go to trial. And he could have, immediately after the state rested its case and before the jury begins deliberating, taken the case away from the jury and entered a judgment of acquittal. He did not do that."
It was also apparent, Williams said, that "at least one to five of the jury members were ready to find her guilty of the charge."
Meanwhile Baller is free on a conditional release and is trying to live her life under the cloud of possibly another trial before another jury.