Courts strike down non-unanimous jury verdicts, bringing some high-profile cases back to Deschutes County
(Update: Adding video, comments from Gunnels)
New trial set for next month in one case; hearings underway in another
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Rulings by the U.S. and Oregon supreme courts mean several Deschutes County criminal convictions are being struck down and those cases returned for review and possible retrials. Since the courts ruled verdicts from non-unanimous juries were unconstitutional, some prison inmates are returning to local jails to await the outcome of their cases.
"There are three of those cases that are back in Deschutes County, so three individuals have been returned to the jail from prison," District Attorney Stephen Gunnels said Tuesday. "We expect to get a total of eight cases returned to Deschutes County, and possibly up to a dozen cases total."
In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that under the Constitution, a criminal defendant's right to a jury trial includes the right to a unanimous jury verdict. Late last December, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the requirement of unanimous jury verdicts in serious criminal cases applies to older cases, not just ones on appeal.
"There are some cases that can be put together, and we can go to trial again with sufficient evidence," Gunnels said. "And there are some cases that can't, and some that kind of fall in the middle."
Gunnels explained the process of handling the returned cases.
"We have a group of attorneys in our office who then review those cases, to make a determination whether we can go to trial again, whether we should try to negotiate the case, or whether the case has to be dismissed," he said.
He said most of the convictions tend to be for either child sexual abuse or domestic violence, and their return to local courts can revive the pain of those involved.
"If they (crime victims) are unwilling to come back and put themselves through that painful process of coming to testify, and we make a determination that we cannot prove the case after the passage of time, then those cases would be dismissed," Gunnels said.
Victim advocates reach out to those victims, to let them know the case is coming back -- and they may need to be questioned before a new jury about what happened.
"Asking those victims to come back and put themselves through it again after many years have gone by and that chapter of their lives had been closed -- that's really difficult," Gunnels said.
One involved Nicholas Waldbillig, a Bend man arrested in 2010 at the age of 20 and later convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison in the sexual assault of a 19-year-old Bend woman. At a hearing on Monday, Deschutes County Senior Judge Stephen Forte set his bail at $50,000 and set a new 10-day jury trial for April 25, court records show.
Another involves a former Sisters pastor, Jeremy Shane Hall, who in 2007 at the age of 35 was sentenced to nearly 19 years in prison for sexually abusing a teen congregant. The status of that case's reverse and remand to circuit court is set for another hearing on Friday.