On August 29, 2002, Christopher Anderson, was charged with murdering Amber Zurcher on June 3, 2002. His first trial resulted in a mistrial. His second trial resulted in a guilty verdict, which was overturned on appeal because of the admission of prejudicial testimony. The state tried Anderson a third time in 2008. This trial resulted in a hung jury, and the judge declared a mistrial.
The state tried Anderson a fourth time in 2010. During voir dire, a potential juror commented in front of the other prospective jurors that Anderson’s co-counsel appeared to have fallen asleep. Because of this, the trial judge declared what Anderson characterizes as a mistrial, but the appeals court notes that the trial court called a continuance in its judgment entry. The case resumed or started over several months later, with a new jury seated after a new voir dire. The same witnesses testified. Once more, the jury was hopelessly deadlocked, and the trial judge again declared a mistrial.
When the state announced its intention to try the case for the fifth or sixth time (depending on whether the fourth attempt is considered a continuance or a mistrial), Anderson filed a motion to dismiss the murder charge on the grounds of alleged violations of the Due Process and Double Jeopardy Clauses. The trial court denied the motion, and Anderson appealed. Years were spent in appeals to determine whether the denial of the motion to dismiss was a final appealable order. In 2014, the Supreme Court of Ohio unanimously decided that it was. The matter was remanded to the appellate court for a ruling on the merits of Anderson’s appeal.
On remand, in a unanimous decision written by Judge Waite, joined by Judges DeGenaro and Robb, the Seventh District Court of Appeals held that there is nothing to suggest that the prosecution had acted in bad faith, and absent misconduct on the part of the state, a mistrial or hung jury does not bar retrials. The decision of the trial court to deny Anderson’s motion to dismiss was affirmed.
So, at this point Anderson again appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio, arguing that any further attempt to try him again would violate due process, positing that it was simply not fair to make “repeated attempts over a long course of time to convict a person by simply wearing him down when there is no new evidence of guilt.”
Supreme Court of Ohio Decision: OK To Try Anderson Again
On September 14, 2016, the Supreme Court of Ohio handed down a merit decision, State v. Anderson, 2016-Ohio-5791. In a fractured plurality opinion written by Justice Kennedy, the court held that there is no constitutional violation when the state seeks to retry an incarcerated defendant after a string of properly declared mistrials. Chief Justice O’Connor concurred in judgment only. Justice Lanzinger, joined by Justice Pfeifer, also concurred in judgment only, but wrote separately to explain her disagreement with the reasoning of the lead opinion. Justice O’Neill dissented, without opinion. Read an analysis of the merit decision here.
Enough, it Seems, Was Enough
On March 13, 2017, as part of a plea agreement, Anderson appeared before Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas Judge Anthony D’Apolito and pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and aggravated burglary. He was sentenced to time served, which at this point has been over fourteen years (5318 days, to be exact). Anderson has now been released from jail, subject to five years of post release control.