The decision has been made: No second trial for Baller
- Bill Sheehy
- Central Oregonian - News
>A hung jury ended the first trial of the young mother charged with child neglect - that case has now been dismissed and will not be tried againThe child neglect case against a young Prineville mother has been dismissed - the decision has been made not to schedule a second trial for the 20-year old woman.
Earlier this month, after deliberating the information and evidence presented in a one-day trial, the six-member jury agreed that they were unable to reach a decision on the guilt of the young woman charged with misdemeanor child neglect.
Melissa Baller is the young mother of two-year old Christian, the boy who drowned a year ago in the Crooked River. Months after the child's death, District Attorney Gary Williams filed the child neglect charge against the woman and she was brought to trial only to end up with a hung jury.
In making the decision to prosecute, Williams explained that he believed the evidence he would present at trial 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.
The initial decision to take the case to trial, he said, was not a difficult one to make. "I looked at the background of the defendant, her age, the sufficiency of evidence, the attitude of the defendant. There were many factors," he said. "I took into account the best interests of the victim and other potential victims in the community. It was not an intentional act, it was a negligent act."
In announcing his decision not to retry Baller, Williams explained that as with all prosecutions there is a detrimental value.
"When the community hears about a case going to prosecution, the community knows that if a person engaged in or has a part in a crime will face the consequences. The detrimental value of prosecution of this case has been met."
Williams said a number of factors were considered when making his decision, the primary one was the difficulty a second trial would be on the particular witnesses. Many of them, he said, were family members, friends and neighbors and former baby-sitters of the victim, Christian.
Another factor was the probability of a second trial also ending up without a unanimous decision. "In the first trial I presented almost all the evidence that the state had against Melissa Baller. The jury was fairly representative of the community, the witnesses testified as I expected they would and the judge instructed the jury as I expected he would. I don't have any reason to believe the jury was any closer to an unanimous agreement after six hours than they were after six minutes of deliberation."
Williams quickly pointed out that this was a guess based on 17 years of criminal trials on his part. He has not been in contact with any of the jury members, saying it would be improper and unethical for him to do so.
However he did hear from the community. That, he said was another factor in his conclusions. "The community sentiment about this case - feedback from both sides of the fence, letters and phone calls and from people on the street, was split about 50-50, " Williams said, "maybe a little more against prosecuting her again."
That factor, he added, was not the deciding factor, but it was, he said, something to consider.