Deliberations ended without a verdict Thursday after jurors were unable to reach a unified decision on a case concerning a state prison inmate accused of assaulting a corrections officer.
Huntingdon County Senior Judge Stewart Kurtz declared a mistrial around 3 p.m. Thursday after receiving a second note from the jury explaining they were deadlocked in their discussion on the commonwealth’s case against Ryan Brock, 25, who was charged with aggravated assault and harassment relative to an alleged attack on an SCI-Huntingdon sergeant Nov. 22, 2017.
Kurtz dismissed jurors with thanks and ordered Brock, who is originally from Lancaster County, to return to court for another round of jury selection in May. Jury selection for Thursday’s trial was held Monday and nine women and three men heard the case.
Brock was originally charged with aggravated assault, simple assault and harassment. The simple assault charge was withdrawn. And while the jury focused their efforts on the aggravated assault charge, Kurtz was tasked with ruling on the summary harassment charge. Because the jury did not reach a verdict, Kurtz held off on his own.
Since the case is again headed for trial, the attorneys limited their comments. Defense attorney Christopher Wencker called Thursday’s outcome “unusual” and Huntingdon County District Attorney Dave Smith said he’s “looking forward to a retrial.”
Jurors heard from three witnesses over the course of the morning, including the primary victim who is now a lieutenant at SCI Houtzdale in Clearfield County.
Other witnesses included another corrections officer who was among SCI Huntingdon staff who responded to the incident, an LPN who treated the victim in the prison infirmary and the lead investigator with state police at Huntingdon.
Jurors also viewed video of the incident and photographs from the victim’s injuries which included bruising to the left side of his head, left foot and left elbow.
Brock elected not to take the stand.
In his opening and closing statements, Smith argued the November 2017 incident was a matter of the defendant losing his temper when he was told he’d have to wait to see a counselor.
“Because he’s upset, because he doesn’t get his way, he attacks,” Smith said, arguing the defendant’s “repeated blows” indicate intent.
“He absolutely knew what he was doing,” Smith said.
Wencker argued that his client has a history of mental health issues and on the day of the incident was stressed due to a death in his family.
“What you can’t see is someone’s intention,” Wencker said. He asked the jury to consider whether his client is someone who acted knowingly or intentionally, “or was this an individual in pain, stressed, who’d received some really devastating news and was expressing that grief.”
Wencker also suggested the victim provoked Brock leading up to the incident.
Deliberations began around 12:20 p.m. and paused an hour later when the jury asked Kurtz about whether the attorneys’ statements and questions are evidence. Kurtz explained that while neither are evidence, jurors may consider the attorney’s statements in relation to the evidence and their own common sense as they weigh the case. The jury also asked to view the video a second time.
Deliberations resumed at 1:30 p.m. and paused again at 2:10 p.m, this time with the jury informing the judge their discussion had reached a stalemate. Kurtz asked the group to give their efforts another try.
“Do not speculate,” the judge said. “You shouldn’t wonder about questions not asked and evidence not presented.” He also told jurors, “You have a duty to consult with each other.”
The jury resumed their effort until 3 p.m. when they presented Kurtz with their second note declaring a deadlock.
The morning started with a motion presented by Wencker concerning potential defense witnesses which was heard by Kurtz out of view of the jury. Wencker said his client provided him a list of witnesses in a letter received in late January. Wencker said he’s not been able to interview the witnesses who are all state inmates and are now housed at various prisons around the state.
Smith argued that, with the trial ready to start, there was no time to arrange transport for inmates and asked for proof regarding the relevance of the inmates’ testimony. Kurtz said inmates have testified at trial in Huntingdon County in the past but denied the motion, agreeing with with Smith on both points concerning time and relevance.
Rebecca can be reached at huntingdondailynews.com.