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Mistrial declared in Strine trial after purported acquittal

Judge Tari Eitzen receives the verdict in the Jon Strine vehicular homicide trial Thursday. (Dan Pelle)
Judge Tari Eitzen receives the verdict in the Jon Strine vehicular homicide trial Thursday. (Dan Pelle)

Wails from a victim’s daughter filled the courtroom just after the judge read what jurors had initially presented as a unanimous acquittal. But seconds later, one juror said she didn’t agree with the verdict. Then five more said the same thing.

The bizarre series of events, which several longtime Spokane County court officials said they’d never before seen, led to a mistrial Thursday in the vehicular homicide and assault trial of a Spokane stockbroker who broadsided a motorcycle in June 2009, killing the passenger and paralyzing the driver.

A new trial for Jon A. Strine, 43, is expected to begin in March.

The victims’ family declined comment. Strine and his lawyer, Carl Oreskovich, declined comment.

Deputy Prosecutor Mary Ann Brady said she was “so surprised by what happened.”

But, she said, “This was a very tough case. … Sometimes people just can’t agree.”

The 12 jurors left without speaking to media.

“I know this has been extremely difficult for everyone,” Judge Tari Eitzen said in court.

Eitzen twice asked the jury foreman if she thought they could eventually reach a verdict.

“A unanimous verdict you mean?” the woman responded. “No your honor.”

All jury verdicts must be unanimous in criminal trials.

Strine contends the June 2, 2009, crash in downtown Spokane that killed 48-year-old Lorri Keller, an elementary school secretary, and paralyzed her husband, Gary Keller, 61, was a tragic accident resulting from a routine driving decision, not a criminal act.

State crime lab tests placed Strine’s blood-alcohol level at 0.20, but Oreskovich said the tests are notoriously unreliable. Experts for the defense said Strine’s alcohol consumption before the crash – about 4  1/2 drinks in 3  1/2 hours – would not have placed him over the legal limit for driving, which is 0.08.

Jurors watched surveillance video from Fast Eddie’s, where Strine was drinking before the crash. Strine drank two beers and took a sip of a shot of Crown Royal, but he didn’t appear visibly intoxicated on the video. Jurors also saw seconds-long video from Washington State Department of Transportation cameras that showed Strine’s silver Mercedes driving with the flow of traffic. But several motorists testified that Strine was driving erratically before the crash and nearly hit a curb.

Strine said he accelerated to pass a car on his right after realizing he was in the wrong lane of southbound Browne Street. Oreskovich told jurors his client was driving between 35 mph and 39 mph in the 30 mph zone.

Investigators placed Strine’s speed at 54 mph, but Gary Keller testified that he didn’t believe Strine was driving faster than 40 mph.

The Kellers, who lived in Mead, were in the area that evening so Gary Keller could find the location of an appointment the next day.

A civil suit filed by Keller against Strine, who has at least two previous drunken driving arrests, was settled out of court.