Murder defendant Orange Taylor III "was at the wrong place at the wrong time," his brother said. (Larry E. Wright / Associated Press)
ANN ARBOR -- Two holdout jurors were enough Tuesday to declare a hung jury and mistrial in a sensational rape and murder case that led to the firing of Eastern Michigan University's president.
Orange Taylor III, 21, of Southfield smiled and gave his family a fist pump after the panel of 11 women and one man announced it couldn't reach a verdict about claims he raped and suffocated student Laura Dickinson in her dorm room Dec. 13.
A retrial is set for Jan. 28. Tuesday's decision added a new twist to a case that's been peculiar from the start and prompted the Board of Regents to fire President John Fallon on claims administrators covered up a murder.
But one of two hold-out jurors said she's not convinced Dickinson was killed. Taylor's defense called no witnesses, but his lawyer argued the ex-student was unfortunate in being in the room of the 22-year-old Hastings woman who had a heart condition.
"The difficulty was placing the defendant at the scene before the victim was found dead," said Lauretta Codrington of Ann Arbor, who owns a sports management business. She said another juror also voted against convicting Taylor. "There was doubt that she was killed. I was in doubt that she was killed."
Dickinson's family, who waited for months before university officials informed them they believed their daughter was murdered, seemed stunned and left the courtroom without comment.
So did Washtenaw County Assistant Prosecutor Blaine Longsworth, whose case centered on DNA evidence of Taylor found on Dickinson and video surveillance that showed him entering the room around the time of her death and leaving with one of her Christmas presents. A janitor found her, half-naked and with a pillow on her head, Dec. 15.
"We feel that the prosecution never proved the case," said Genero Cofield, Taylor's older brother. "A mistrial is definitely better than a guilty verdict. We feel Orange Taylor will be vindicated of all of the charges when we go back to trial. We do not believe Orange Taylor had anything to do with the death of Laura Dickinson."
Taylor was returned to Washtenaw County Jail after the mistrial.
The jury began deliberations Friday after the weeklong trial. Jurors initially indicated they were at loggerheads about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, but reviewed evidence for about five more hours.
About 4 p.m., the jury forewoman informed Circuit Judge Archie Brown they were "hopelessly deadlocked." The jury could have convicted Taylor of first- or second-degree murder.
"I don't believe my son is guilty of murder and rape. He is not that person," said Orange Taylor II. "We hope this thing will end soon as possible."
Defense attorney Alvin Keel maintained the medical examiner did not have the cause of death until a day before Taylor's preliminary examination in March. Dickinson also had a pre-existing heart condition that was never checked, Keel said.
Keel admitted Taylor and Dickinson crossed paths when he entered her room, coming across her and pleasuring himself by her half-naked body. He had been smoking marijuana. "He was at the wrong place at the wrong time," Cofield said. "We're not condoning the things that he may have been guilty of, but we claim that he is not guilty of the murder of Laura Dickinson."
University officials initially announced that foul play wasn't suspected in the death, but eventually the case set off a firestorm that led the Board of Regents to fire Fallon this summer. Two other administrators also were ousted.
Fallon sued the university this month, claiming he was let go because he was about to expose wrongdoing.
The death also led to a Department of Education probe into whether EMU violated the federal Cleary Act, which requires colleges to alert students of safety threats.
Both that and a review by a Detroit law firm found numerous problems with the university's response.
"We would like to see this thing come to an end," said Jim Stapleton, an EMU regent. "It hurts the Dickinson family's ability to bring closure and the university's ability to bring closure."
But he added the mistrial doesn't "hamper the university's ability to move forward."
"We mourn and will continue to mourn her death," he said. "We've pledged to make our campus safer and talk about the good things that are going on at EMU."