By Jeff Lehr
JOPLIN, Mo. —
A mistrial was declared Friday in the drug-trafficking case of a Joplin man when a juror disclosed that she knew a witness for the defense.
The disclosure came on the second day of Gary L. Mitchell’s trial in Jasper County Circuit Court and forced Circuit Judge David Dally to declare the mistrial.
During a recess, a juror informed the court that she was acquainted with a witness who was being called to testify on the defendant’s behalf, and that it would affect her ability to be fair and impartial. The disclosure prompted the prosecution to enter a motion for a mistrial, and the defendant indicated that he had no objection to a mistrial.
Mitchell, 38, was being tried on a charge of second-degree trafficking in drugs, a Class A felony that can carry from 10 to 30 years or up to life in prison. A 12-member jury was selected Thursday to hear the case without any alternates seated since the trial was not expected to take more than two days.
Attorneys delivered opening statements Thursday afternoon and the prosecution began presenting its case against Mitchell.
On Friday, defense attorney Daniel Viets let the judge know that his client had instructed him to enter a motion to withdraw as his counsel. The judge overruled the motion and ordered the trial to resume. But the juror’s disclosure brought proceedings to a halt following a subsequent recess.
The case against Mitchell concerns two packages of powder and rock cocaine and two bricks of marijuana found in a duffel bag on the floorboard in the back seat of a car stopped by Jasper County sheriff’s deputies on Nov. 14, 2009, on North Main Street in Joplin.
An off-duty deputy, Chad Karr, had spotted what he took to be a drug deal taking place in the parking lot of the old Quincy Magoo’s bar at Stone’s Corner on North Main. Karr testified that he saw another man get out of a Cadillac parked in the lot carrying a duffel bag and climb in the backseat of a second Cadillac that Karr recognized as belonging to Mitchell.
Karr said the other man got back out of Mitchell’s car a short time later without the bag, and Mitchell drove off down Main Street. Karr followed in his private vehicle while contacting an on-duty deputy and letting him know what he had observed. When Karr allegedly observed Mitchell make some lane changes without signaling, he had the other deputy stop the vehicle and the drugs were found with the assistance of a drug-sniffing dog.
MItchell told deputies that the bag belonged to the other man who had been in his car. He said the man was going to be staying at his place and as far as he knew, the bag contained his clothes. He denied knowing it held any drugs.
“The bag was still sitting right where (the other man) left it,” his attorney told jurors during opening statements.
Viets maintained that $6,200 cash found on the defendant’s person during the vehicle stop and arrest should not be regarded as incriminating.
“There’s no evidence that money was related to drug-dealing in any way,” he said.
Circuit Judge David Dally has reset the drug-trafficking trial of Gary Mitchell for July 9.