WOODLAND — A Davis murder case was abruptly dismissed during the jury-selection phase Thursday morning after the prosecuting attorney fell ill, and a Yolo Superior Court judge declined her supervisors’ requests to postpone the trial.
However, officials from the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office say they intend to refile homicide charges against 37-year-old James Elron Mings for his alleged role in the Oct. 1, 2011, death of Davis resident Kevin Gerard Seery.
The unusual turn of events occurred Thursday morning in Judge Paul Richardson’s courtroom, where the case was entering its fourth day of jury selection.
Prosecuting attorney Martha Holzapfel had fallen ill the day before, and was under a doctor’s orders to stay home from work until at least Friday. Arrangements were made for her supervisor, Rob Gorman, to select a jury in her absence.
But after reviewing just over half of the 10-page questionnaires filled out by 125 potential jurors, “I noticed … that Ms. Holzapfel’s opinion about prospective jurors and my opinion about prospective jurors differed greatly,” Gorman told Richardson, according to a transcript of the proceedings. “Ms. Holzapfel needs to be the one to pick this jury because Ms. Holzapfel is the one that’s assigned to this case.”
Gorman, accompanied by Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Cabral, asked for a continuance of the trial until Holzapfel could return.
Mings’ attorney, Deputy Public Defender Dan Hutchinson, objected, saying the DA’s office already had made a “strategic decision” to have Gorman select the jury, and therefore failed to demonstrate good cause to delay the proceedings.
Richardson, meanwhile, noted that the court had already sent the prospective jurors home on Wednesday with the understanding that jury selection would resume — and conclude — the following day. The group responded “with an audible groan,” he said.
“I am very concerned about the court’s credibility with this group of people,” Richardson said, according to the transcript. Gorman pressed the matter, indicating his office would take Richardson’s refusal to continue the trial before the 3rd District Court of Appeal.
Still, Richardson denied Gorman’s continuance request “based on the representations that were made to me yesterday by the people that they could go forward with this jury selection.” He then called a recess, after which Cabral again asked for a trial delay.
He said Gorman’s offer to get the trial started, while “well-intentioned,” would put his office at a disadvantage.
“To insert a new attorney into this case not only on the eve of trial, but in the middle of trial, and require the people to try that case denies the people their right to a fair trial,” Cabral said.
But Richardson refused to reverse course, and Hutchinson called for the case to be dismissed since prosecutors were “unwilling to proceed,” he said.
Richardson granted the dismissal, along with a request by Hutchinson that Mings be released from the Yolo County Jail if the charges are not refiled by Monday. An arraignment hearing was scheduled for that afternoon, and the jury pool released.
Mings is accused of fatally strangling the 42-year-old Seery on Oct. 1, 2011, at the victim’s J Street apartment. Mings allegedly confessed to the killing, describing it as “an act of love” he carried out at the request of Seery, who suffered from multiple ailments. He has no prior criminal history.
— Reach Lauren Keene at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene