Judge denies mistrial motion in Detroit cop case
Detroit — A Wayne Circuit judge ruled Monday she won't grant a mistrial based on a tirade by the grandmother of Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who broke down on the witness stand last week while recounting a police raid in which Detroit Police Officer Joseph Weekley killed the young girl seconds after he entered the house.
However, the judge said she will warn the grandmother, Mertilla Jones, that future outbursts won't be tolerated, and that if there was another such display, the case would be declared a mistrial and could result in double jeopardy, meaning the case against Weekley could not go forward.
"If the witnesses decide to come in and continue to put on a show, which will influence the jury, then I will declare a mistrial, and that may have jeopardy consequences," Wayne Circuit Judge Cynthia Gray-Hathaway said. "In that case, we may never try this case again."
Weekley's attorney, Steve Fishman, on Monday morning filed a motion for a mistrial because jurors saw Jones' emotional display Wednesday. Fishman said the outburst was "deliberate and premeditated."
"(Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Robert) Moran knows that, you know that, we all know that," Fishman told Hathaway. "So the question is: Do we allow a witness to deliberately try to sabotage Officer Weekley's ability to have a fair trial? The antics and behavior … how close she got to Officer Weekley, and she's pointing and yelling. There's not any doubt: It's prejudicial to his rights."
Hathaway took about a half-hour Monday to individually question each juror about whether they could be impartial after witnessing Jones' outburst.
All 12 jurors and two alternates said they could remain impartial, but many said they were surprised at the level of emotion Jones showed.
One juror added that she thought the proceedings were unfair to Aiyana's family.
"I was a little surprised," the woman said. "It's almost like the police got respect, and the family didn't get respect … that upset me."
After the questioning, Fishman argued for the mistrial.
"I just have a hard time allowing someone to do what Ms. Jones did in this trial, knowing what her intent was, and letting her get away with it," Fishman said. "We teach our children that actions have consequences; I hope Ms. Jones learns that her actions have consequences. You can't come in here and act a fool and intentionally try to keep my client from getting a fair trial."
Hathaway denied the motion, saying she felt the jurors could use "common sense."
"Witnesses come in all the time, and they either have a motive or they don't," the judge said. "The jury is going to be told that motive by itself is not enough to find a person guilty of a crime."
The judge then called for a recess for the day, saying "we'll regroup tomorrow morning."
Weekley is accused of involuntary manslaughter after he shot Aiyana during a May 2010 raid that was being filmed for a television show.
On Wednesday, after Moran asked Jones what happened when Weekley's gun went off, she went into a lengthy tirade.
"Why? Why you do it? Please tell me," Jones wailed at Weekley. "Tell me why you came in my house like that? You killed my grandbaby."
As Jones was led from the witness stand, Jones told Weekley: "You know I never touched you, Mr. Weekley. She was only 7 years old. She was only a baby.
"Why y'all do this to me? I get no sleep. I'm sick as hell. I get flashbacks; I wouldn't wish them on nobody in the world — not even you."
After Jones was escorted from the stand, the judge told jurors to disregard the emotional tirade and consider only the evidence presented during the trial.
Fishman said in an email of Jones' testimony he's "never seen anything like it in almost 41 years as a trial lawyer."
After Jones was escorted by deputies into the witness room next to the courtroom, Hathaway reminded jurors they aren't to decide the case based on sympathy, but must instead look at the evidence presented during the trial. During her instructions, Jones could still be heard wailing.
Weekley sat upright in his seat in Wayne Circuit Court during the tirade and showed no signs of emotion.
Onlookers in the courtroom, including Aiyana's relatives, also sobbed and rushed from the room.
Weekley claims Jones, 51, slapped at his sub-machine gun as he entered the home on Lillibridge looking for Chauncey Owens, who two days earlier killed 17-year-old Je'Rean Blake outside a party store. Owens and Aiyana's father, Charles Jones, have been convicted of the killing. Mertilla Jones is the mother of Charles Jones.
The raid was filmed by a crew from the television cable show "First 48." Homicide detectives testified top police officials made the decision to allow the crew to accompany the Detroit Police Special Response Team on the raid.
Jones' outburst was the second during the proceedings.
Earlier in the trial, LaKrystal Sanders, Aiyana's aunt and Owens' girlfriend, yelled at Fishman as he asked her whether Mertilla Jones was on the couch with Aiyana when police entered the home, or on the floor. Sanders claimed someone altered the transcript of her grand jury testimony, taking out the passage where she said her mother rolled onto the floor as police came in.
"You keep asking me the same questions over and over," she said to Fishman, her voice cracking. Then she looked at Weekley: "That man killed my niece. She's gone."
The judge told Sanders she wasn't being respectful, and ordered a break.
After the break, Hathaway warned those in the courtroom against similar outbursts.
"I'm convinced as the judge in this case, that there's nobody in this courtroom who doesn't feel bad about this entire situation," she said. "I'm patient about a lot of things; there's one thing I'm not patient about, and that's making a bad situation worse.
"To the witness and everyone else: If you do anything that makes this trial worse than it already is ... pass the word on: I will not hesitate to have someone detained if we get out of order," Hathaway said.
Jones testified during the first trial that Weekley and his squad, the Special Response Team, were out to kill someone, and Weekley put his gun to Aiyana's head and shot her execution-style. She reiterated that during her testimony Wednesday, before breaking down.