Juror omission results in new murder trial
Parley Jeffs Dutson, who was convicted by a jury last year of sexually assaulting and killing his girlfriend, should get a new trial, according to the judge who presided over the original trial.

Third District Judge Royal Hansen on Thursday granted Dutson a new trial primarily because a female juror failed to disclose she had been a rape victim years earlier. Hansen concluded in a 14-page ruling that this omission created a violation of Dutson's constitutional right to a fair trial with an impartial jury.

"The juror was unable to apply the law due to her actual bias, or at the very least, bias should be inferred under the circumstances," the judge wrote.

Dutson, 20, was charged with murder and aggravated sexual assault, both first-degree felonies, in connection with the shooting death of his girlfriend, Kara Hopkins, 15, at a party in 2007. A jury convicted him of both counts after a four-day trial in July 2008.

Dutson's attorneys wanted the conviction set aside after learning a female juror did not reveal during jury selection that she had been raped when she was a teenager. The matter emerged during jury deliberation. The woman later told the court she had not reported the rape because she simply did not think of it during jury selection and did not see herself as a victim.

Prosecutor Kimberley Crandall told the court earlier this month that the woman had not set out to deceive anyone. "It is not something she thinks about," Crandall said.

In addition, the woman was not specifically asked about sexual assault but instead was asked a general question about being a crime victim. "She cannot fail to honestly answer a question she is not asked," Crandall said.

However, defense attorney McCaye Christianson said it was "highly unlikely" that this woman would have been allowed to serve on the jury if all sides had known about the woman's past situation, especially since she had been the victim of a crime similar to what happened to Hopkins.

Christianson had told the judge that a new trial would be costly and time-consuming, but it was the only fair thing to do for Dutson because it was not his fault there was a serious flaw in the original trial that was not known to him, the judge, prosecutors or defense attorneys.

"Mr. Dutson is not the one who should bear the loss or suffer the consequences," Christianson said. "He deserves a fair trial before an impartial jury."

E-MAIL: lindat@desnews.com
Originally published Thursday, May 28, 2009