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From juror box to witness stand 

Dan DeVaul's attorney asks for new trial after juror says her guilty vote was insincere

- DEVAUL’S CHARGES:  One: Maintaining a fire hazard—guilty - Two: Illegal alteration—deadlock - Three: Use and occupancy of structure—deadlock - Four: Unlawful land use—guilty - Five: Illegal stockpiling of materials, scrap, and junk—deadlock - Six: Illegal grading—deadlock - Seven: Importing and stockpiling of material—not guilty - Eight: Violating a stop work order—not guilty - Nine: Illegal use of recreational vehicle for residence—deadlock -
  • DEVAUL’S CHARGES: One: Maintaining a fire hazard—guilty


    Two: Illegal alteration—deadlock

    Three: Use and occupancy of structure—deadlock

    Four: Unlawful land use—guilty

    Five: Illegal stockpiling of materials, scrap, and junk—deadlock

    Six: Illegal grading—deadlock

    Seven: Importing and stockpiling of material—not guilty

    Eight: Violating a stop work order—not guilty

    Nine: Illegal use of recreational vehicle for residence—deadlock

Dan DeVaul’s trial seemed all but over. He was convicted on two counts of criminal code violations on Sept. 22 and now awaits sentencing. But after the trial ended and the jurors went back to their daily lives, one juror had a plague of conscience, one that could unravel the process.

 

Juror Mary Rose Partin informed DeVaul’s attorney, Jeff Stulberg, that she not only wanted to acquit DeVaul of all charges but, in fact, felt “bullied” and “badgered” by two other jurors and Superior Court Judge John Trice to change her vote. She told him this after voting to convict DeVaul on two misdemeanor code violation charges.

 

Of course, the DeVaul trial was hardly routine. By the admissions of several witnesses for the prosecution, his was a type of case that rarely is dealt with in criminal court. Stulberg called no witnesses to defend his client, instead relying on a theatrical closing argument. Despite the oddities of the trial, and perhaps because of them, DeVaul was convicted on two the nine charges, found innocent on two others, and deadlocked the jury on the remaining five. Had Partin voted not guilty, as she wanted, none of the charges against DeVaul would have stuck.

 

Stulberg on Oct. 15 filed a motion to have a new trial for the two counts of which DeVaul was convicted: maintaining a fire hazard and unlawful land use. He filed the motion after receiving a written declaration from Partin on Oct. 2 and argued a new trial is necessary “on multiple grounds of judicial error, judicial misconduct, and jury misconduct.”

 

The district attorney’s office has until Nov. 2 to respond to Stulberg’s motion. The court will rule on whether there will be a new trial on Nov. 13.

 

According to Partin’s declaration—basically a letter outlining her complaints—she said she didn’t fully trust either the prosecution’s evidence or witnesses. But after being reprimanded by the judge, as she puts it, and harassed by other jurors, she reluctantly submitted to vote DeVaul guilty.

 

“I made those changes because I felt compelled by the judge and the remaining jurors to make the change,” Partin wrote in that declaration. She continued, “After the jury was dismissed and I was on my way home, I broke down emotionally and cried and realized I had made a grave mistake by changing my vote. I realized I had compromised the life of another because I was pressured to change my vote and was not willing to stay true to my opinions. I decided I would contact the attorney for the defendant and ask if there was something I could do to undo what had been done.”

 

Partin could not be reached for further comment and a court gag order precludes others involved in the case from commenting. DeVaul was charged with multiple criminal code violations for the living conditions at his sober-living facility, Sunny Acres Ranch, outside SLO.

 

During the trial, Trice, Stulberg, and Deputy District Attorney Craig Van Rooyen spent time outside the public eye interviewing Partin and other jurors because of concerns that Partin may have made up her mind before deliberations began or would not change her vote no matter what other jurors brought to the table. Partin was summoned to the courtroom multiple times and questioned almost as though she was a witness, according to court transcripts in Stulberg’s motion. The judge and two attorneys had to decipher Partin’s thoughts and determine when she made up her mind on the case and how resistant she would be to change it. It was certainly an odd situation that even knocked the judge off balance.

 

“I’ve never actually done an inquiry like we just did, so I’m open to suggestion,” Trice said after Partin left the room, according to transcripts.

 

The jury foreperson was also questioned individually in a closed hearing, according to court documents. According to that account, Partin sat through about 30 minutes of deliberation immediately after the closing arguments but very early during the next day of deliberations announced she wasn’t going to convict DeVaul on any of the charges.

 

“We have a juror who does not believe any of the witnesses,” jurors wrote to the court while sequestered in deliberations, according to court documents. “They do not believe the witnesses told the truth and therefore do not believe any of the physical evidence.” Later in the lengthy note to the court, “This juror has stated they will rule ‘not guilty’ on all charges, regardless of any discussions or deliberations. This is all as a result that they do not believe anything by any witness.”

 

Jurors sent multiple questions to the court in search of clarification on the law and charges brought against DeVaul. During about two days of deliberation and apparent confusion among the jury, Stulberg argued several times for a new trial but was unsuccessful.

 

Trice spoke of declaring a hung jury but chose not to, according to transcripts. He also considered removing and replacing Partin with an alternate.

 

Partin eventually changed her vote, but only after being brought before the judge twice and questioned on her thought processes. In her declaration, she said she did so not because she was convinced of DeVaul’s guilt, but that she was tired of being “badgered and harassed by everybody including, now, the judge.” When the jury first gathered, even before deliberations began, Partin added, Juror William Fellows “announced to the jury that the defendant was guilty on all counts and that he had more information than the other jurors because of his wife’s position in probation and his job with law enforcement.”

 

Partin wrote that Fellows and another juror, who could not be reached for comment, feverishly tried to change her vote to guilty. Asked about those accusations during a short phone interview, Fellows sounded agitated and exhausted by his time on that jury.

 

“You write what you want. I have no comment. That was a very frustrating experience, you know, whatever,” he said. As for Partin’s claim that he had assured the jury DeVaul was guilty, Fellows said it was absolutely untrue. But when Partin announced to the other jurors she wanted to acquit DeVaul, Fellows remembered, “and every one of us looked at her and went we couldn’t believe what she just said.”

 

Stulberg’s take, according to court transcripts: “It doesn’t disqualify her as a juror, it makes her a person of conscience rather than asleep.”

 

Staff Writer Colin Rigley doesn’t want jury duty so he can’t be reached at crigley@newtimesslo.com.

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