MODESTO — A judge was forced to declare a mistrial Friday after a jury failed to reach a verdict on a charge of involuntary manslaughter in a suspected road rage case. The defendant is accused of beating to death a 67-year-old man during the confrontation in Turlock three years ago.
Michael Joseph Hoyt, 53, was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Ken Winter. The jury, however, unanimously agreed that Hoyt was not guilty of the murder charge. It also found him not guilty of two levels of voluntary manslaughter. But the jurors couldn't unanimously agree on the lesser charge.
The prosecutor has argued that Hoyt killed Winter with his bare hands, acting with uncontrolled rage and beating an elderly, drunk man who couldn't defend himself.
"We're disappointed, but we respect the jury's decision," Deputy District Attorney Wendell Emerson said Friday.
After learning the jury had acquitted him of the more serious charges, Hoyt wiped away tears and patted his defense attorney on his back. Hoyt declined to comment for this report.
Frank Carson, Hoyt's attorney, said his client never should have been charged with second-degree murder and that they were gratified with Friday's outcome. He said Hoyt is innocent of all charges and they will continue to challenge the allegations if there is to be a second trial.
"We intend to fight on," Carson said after the hearing.
The defense attorney has argued that Hoyt was just driving to work when he encountered Winter, "this maniac" who attacked his client.
Because the jury acquitted Hoyt of the more serious charges, Emerson will be forced to prosecute Hoyt on the charge of involuntary manslaughter. The prosecutor, however, needs to discuss the case with the district attorney and Winter's family before deciding whether to seek a new trial.
The judge scheduled Hoyt to return to court Thursday for a pretrial hearing. The prosecutor will then have an opportunity to announce whether he'll seek a second trial. Hoyt remains free on bail.
Berniece Winter, Winter's widow, was disappointed with the outcome. After she exited the courtroom, she left the courthouse and was not available for comment.
Winter's relatives regularly attended the trial, and more than a dozen of them waited patiently in the courthouse hallway for the verdict Friday afternoon. Some of them said they were deflated, but they vowed to continue to show their support if a second trial is ordered.
Jan Knudson, Winter's sister, said her brother never was an angry man. She said he always showed up to work and hardly ever raised his voice.
"He wasn't anything like Carson made him out to be," Knudson said outside the courthouse.
Winter's relatives were dismayed with the jury's failure to reach a verdict. They said the injuries Winter suffered were a clear indication that Hoyt was responsible for his death.
A forensic pathologist testified that Winter died from a ruptured spleen caused by blunt force trauma, and his injuries were consistent with someone who had been severely punched. The prosecutor has argued that Winter's face was so swollen, he was unrecognizable to his family.
"When we got to the hospital, we couldn't tell who he was," said Nadine Walters, Winter's cousin.
In his closing arguments, the defense attorney told the jury that the pathologist said this case was rare because body blows typically are not fatal and fistfights usually result in facial fractures.
Carson argued that the pathologist said the spleen injury could have been caused by a fall after Winter swung the first punch and exacerbated by punches from Hoyt or subsequent falls.
The jury of seven women and five men also agreed Hoyt was not guilty of voluntary manslaughter with imperfect self-defense. They produced a not guilty verdict for voluntary manslaughter committed in the heat of passion, as well.
Then their voting reached an impasse. The jurors told the judge they were hopelessly deadlocked on the charge of involuntary manslaughter, voting three times without reaching a verdict.
The jury forewoman told the judge their vote on involuntary manslaughter was 10-2, but she didn't indicate which way the jury was leaning. That's when the deliberations became confusing for the jurors.
One juror told the judge they reached a unanimous decision on a lesser charge, which was not identified in court. How they voted on it, guilty or not guilty, was not discussed in court.
Thursday, the jury asked for a clarification on the charge of assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, but it was unclear Friday whether that was the lesser charge on which they reached a verdict.
The juror told the judge they were instructed they could not vote on a lesser charge until they reached a verdict on all the more serious charges. "We did reach a verdict on a lesser offense," the juror told the judge. "There seems to be some confusion."
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Marie Silveira was filling in for Judge Ricardo Córdova, who could not be in court Friday. Judge Silveira pulled the attorneys aside for a conference away from the jury. She returned and confirmed the jury cannot vote on the lesser offense without the unanimous decision on the involuntary manslaughter charge. Silveira asked the jury if there was anything that could be done to help it reach a verdict.
The jurors, one by one, told the judge they were deadlocked and could not reach a verdict, even if they kept deliberating.
The jurors began deliberating about 11 a.m. May 3 but did not resume until Thursday morning. They returned about 11:50 a.m. Friday and continued deliberating until about 2:30 p.m.
The confrontation occurred about noon Feb. 1, 2010, at Linwood Avenue and Paulson Road. Hoyt has said he thought Winter didn't stop at a stop sign and almost struck his pickup. A witness testified that she saw Hoyt hitting Winter, who was in the fetal position trying to protect himself.
Hoyt testified Winter lunged at him first, and he fought back in self-defense as the two men struggled on the ground. He said Winter was not in the fetal position.
Authorities say that, after the confrontation, both men got back in their vehicles. Winter drove to his sheet-metal shop, where he lost consciousness.
Winter was drunk when he died, with a blood-alcohol level of 0.20 percent, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent to drive.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.