Nevada County judge denies motion for mistrial in murder case
March 23, 2018
The judge in the Jason Schuller murder trial on Friday denied a defense attorney's motion asking for a mistrial, dismissing the argument prosecutors acted inconsistently during the guilt and sanity phases of trial.
The judge's ruling came three days before jurors are scheduled to reconvene and begin deliberating whether Schuller was legally sane when he fatally shot William Tackett, 67, on March 20, 2016.
Deputy Public Defender Micah Pierce states in court filings that prosecutors during the guilt phase of trial repeatedly argued against allowing jurors to hear Tackett had alcohol and marijuana in his system when he died. However, during the sanity phase prosecutors presented evidence marijuana can cause psychosis, which could explain Schuller's behavior.
"They knew that an expert existed who would testify that there is a link between marijuana use and psychotic behavior," Pierce writes. "They chose not to call such a witness, likely because they perceived that the witness would weaken the prosecution's theory of the case at the guilt phase."
According to Pierce, Schuller's self-defense claim is more likely if Tackett were drunk, but prosecutors opposed jurors hearing about any link between alcohol intoxication and the likelihood of Tackett attacking Schuller.
Jurors in December convicted Schuller of first-degree murder. They then proceeded to a second phase of trial to determine if he was not guilty by reason of insanity. The jury deadlocked, and a retrial on the sanity issue only began this month. Schuller remains convicted of murder.
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During the retrial prosecutors introduced evidence marijuana could lead to psychosis, Pierce states.
"The prosecutor has now argued to the jury that the possibility exists that Mr. Schuller's actions were caused by voluntary intoxication by cannabis," his motion states.
That inconsistency warranted a mistrial, Pierce writes.
Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh said his arguments remained consistent in both phases of trial.
"They're saying things in a motion they know to be false," Walsh said.
According to Walsh, he cross-examined a witness during the guilt phase in an attempt to introduce evidence that substance abuse could cause Schuller's behavior. That shows he didn't wait until the sanity phase to present that information.
The judge ultimately agreed with Walsh.
To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.