Round 2 between the city of Spokane and the Hells Angels ended in court Friday with a surprise mistrial and a chorus of disappointment.
It is the second trial against the motorcycle club that has failed to produce a conviction.
Spokane Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen said a late-night encounter between a juror and a bike-riding Hells Angel forced her to declare the mistrial.
She made her decision Friday after receiving a written question from a juror asking if “the defense side waited at the courthouse while jurors were deliberating last night?”
The juror, headed home after deliberations Thursday, reported seeing a Hells Angel ride his motorcycle past the courthouse. No words were exchanged.
The juror’s question forced Eitzen to conclude that the jury was talking about the incident, which violated rules that they only review testimony and exhibits from the trial.
After questioning the jury, Eitzen ordered the mistrial.
Moments before, she also dismissed charges of intimidating a public official against two of the men - club associate Joe Dye and Rick Fabel, president of the Spokane Hells Angels chapter.
The mistrial leaves prosecutors wondering whether to refile charges against Michael Cultis and Michael Wooster for intimidating a public official, and against Fabel and club secretary Timothy Myers for intimidating a witness.
Special Deputy Prosecutor Rocco Treppiedi said he’s not sure whether he’ll seek a retrial.
Treppiedi said three jurors told him after the ruling that the group was “very, very close” to convicting two of the Angels.
But a juror who talked about the case with The Spokesman-Review said that’s not how she read the likely outcomes.
“We had three not-guiltys decided. There was a slight possibility of a conviction,” she said, asking that her name not be used.
The man who was at the center of the trial, Spokane Deputy Prosecutor David Hearrean, wasn’t happy about the ruling.
“I need time to think about what else I should say,” he said.
Hearrean was the prosecutor who failed to convict Myers on a murder charge earlier this year.
Prosecutors said Hearrean and his wife were in the Mars Hotel lounge with friends when four Hells Angels - wearing their club vests and colors - entered the bar and surrounded him. The intimidation charges in the second trial stem from that night at the Mars Hotel.
Club president Fabel was also disappointed in the mistrial.
“This is the second time we’ve been falsely accused by the police,” Fabel said. “They’ve humiliated us, invaded our homes, and spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars going after us.”
Spokane Police Chief Terry Mangan said Friday the outcome of the trial might have been different if Eitzen had ordered tighter security for the jurors.
Mangan said the late-night encounter could have been avoided if the jury had been taken as a group to an undisclosed pickup and drop-off site each day.
The prosecution requested special security for the jurors before the trial started, but Eitzen denied the request.
She did, however, order that none of the jurors’ names be made public.
On Friday, she refused to comment.
But Treppiedi said having security might not have prevented such an encounter.
“It was a totally bizarre circumstance,” Treppiedi said.
The juror who contacted the newspaper said she and her colleagues were stunned by the mistrial.
“We would have been ready to finish the verdicts in a few hours,” she said. “That note was purely a matter of curiosity and misunderstanding on our part.”
She also said the jury - including the woman who sent Eitzen the question - never felt threatened by the Hells Angels.
“In fact, they never looked at us at all throughout” the trial.
The juror said the key mistake was sending the question to Eitzen in the form of a note. Court rules require all inquiries be submitted through official forms.
When Eitzen read the inquiry, she concluded jurors had allowed the event to color their deliberations.
“If we had known it was going to be part of the trial record, we’d have never asked,” the juror said.
In dismissing the intimidation charges against Dye and Fabel, Eitzen said there was no evidence of their wrongdoing “and it’s a source of embarrassment to the court … that those two counts made it to trial.”
Spokane County Prosecutor Jim Sweetser would not say how much the trial cost to prosecute. Mangan said there’s a continuing desire to prosecute people who break the law, including the Hells Angels.
“It’s a matter of what’s right and what’s just. It’s a matter of not letting them feel they can be immune from the law on a technicality,” said Mangan.