Jury deliberations have been postponed for two weeks in the Stanislaus County trial of a man accused of shooting to death his girlfriend.
Robert Vanderheiden is charged with first-degree murder and battery of a spouse in the death of 26-year-old Teresa Rangel. The shooting occurred about 9:45 p.m. March 21, 2011, at a rural home where Vanderheiden and Rangel lived with his grandparents along Warner Road, about a mile west of Highway 99 southwest of Keyes.
The jury of six men and six women started deliberations shortly before 3 p.m. Wednesday. About 90 minutes later, the jurors went home after telling the judge some of them had scheduling conflicts that would prevent them from continuing their deliberations Thursday.
The defendant testified that he was trying to take the gun away from his girlfriend when the weapon accidentally fired. He said she was spinning the gun with her finger inside the trigger guard.
Authorities believe Vanderheiden shot his girlfriend in anger after another failed attempt to leave him. The prosecutor has argued that physical evidence indicates the defendant shot his girlfriend from several feet away, not the short distance he claims.
Superior Court Judge Linda McFadden decided to postpone deliberations until May 12 so the jurors can take care of their obligations before returning to the courthouse. The jury did not deliberate Thursday.
“They had made plans previously,” McFadden told attorneys Thursday afternoon. “They have even canceled appointments because this case took longer than expected.”
Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira asked the judge to have alternate jurors replace those who have scheduling conflicts and continue deliberations without further delay.
Kirk McAllister, Vanderheiden’s attorney, told the judge he was OK with postponement. He said he and his client want the jurors who started deliberating Wednesday afternoon to continue when they can, even if it’s next month.
“We want the jury that we chose here, both sides chose, to decide this,” McAllister said.
Vanderheiden remains free on bail as he awaits the conclusion of his trial.
After hearing arguments from the attorneys, the judge wasn’t convinced to change her mind, and postponed the deliberations. She said there is legal precedent supporting the delay of deliberations, including one court postponing deliberations until after the winter holidays were over.
McAllister suggested that the judge meet with the jurors individually upon their return to ensure they have not discussed the case with anyone during the hiatus.
McFadden agreed, saying she also wants to make sure the jurors have stayed away from news coverage about the case. She said she thinks the jury will also follow her admonitions, telling them to stay off social networking sites until after the trial has concluded.
The judge said that interacting on Facebook and Twitter could create problems for jurors, because others might ask them about their jury service and lead to online conversations they’re not supposed to have.