Mistrial declared in child rape case for lack of jury

WOODSTOCK — Circuit Judge Clark Ritchie declared a mistrial Friday in the case against a Fort Valley man facing rape and sexual battery charges against a girl under the age of 13 because there were not enough jurors present to proceed.

James Allen Lutz is accused of engaging in sexual misconduct with a 12-year-old girl over three weeks in May 2016. He has been formally charged with aggravated sexual battery and two counts of rape, and pleaded not guilty to all charges in March. A jury trial was then set for Friday.

Over 40 jurors were called for Friday’s trial, and only 28 of them reported for jury duty. Both David Downs, who represents Lutz, and Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Louis Campola expressed some concern over the low number of jurors, but Ritchie decided to proceed with the jury selection process to see what would happen.

According to Virginia law, anyone who fails to appear for jury duty can potentially be held in contempt of court and be summoned to appear before a judge to explain their absence. Each individual also faces a fine anywhere from $50 to $200 if they do not have an acceptable excuse for their failure to appear for jury duty.

However, many of the jurors on the list to appear were not actually set to appear, and the lack of jurors was because of an error in the new jury system the court is using, Shenandoah County Circuit Court Clerk Sarona S. Irvin said. She added that some of the jurors had already been excused, and there were probably only four or so that were actually set to report but did not.

Irvin said that because of those circumstances, it is unlikely that there will be any punishment imposed.

During the jury selection process, some of the jurors replied that they knew some of the witnesses but would be able to impartially weigh their testimonies, and other jurors expressed some concern over staying late into the evening for the trial for various reasons.

When Downs asked the jurors if they would have any issue being impartial in a case of  an adult defendant accused of sexually abusing a young girl, 10 of the 28 jurors said that they would have some bias in the case, making them ineligible to serve on the jury.

Down to 18 jurors, both attorneys agreed that they would not be able to proceed with jury selection as they would each still need to strike a number of jurors before they were down to the 13 jurors –12 with one alternate — needed for the trial. Downs also said he still had more than a dozen more questions to ask that would likely show that even more jurors would be ineligible.

“There’s nothing we can do,” Campola said.

Lutz remains in custody at Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail as he awaits his trial date. A new jury trial has been set for Aug. 11 in Shenandoah County Circuit Court. If convicted, Lutz would face a mandatory life sentence on each rape charge.

COMMENTS