Trial postponed due to deputy error

Wanda English Burnett, Editor

A jury trial ended before jury selection could begin Tuesday, July 21 when discovery was made that the defendant was seated in the courtroom, still handcuffed.

The accused, Johnny R. Sandlin, 28, of Cross Plains, was escorted from the Ripley County Jail for the proceedings by Deputy Jason Dickerson, who failed to remove Sandlin’s handcuffs. According to witnesses, the defendant arrived just minutes before the trial was set to begin.

The 37 prospective jurors were seated in the circuit court room when the defendant was brought in.
Judge Carl Taul immediately called the defense attorney and prosecution to the bench advising them of the situation.

While Prosecutor Ric Hertel indicated he would be willing to proceed - there was concern voiced to the court that the defendant would be prejudiced.

Judge Taul explained to Sandlin that he had the right to have a new panel of jurors and he exercised that right, which ended the trial before it began on Tuesday.

The prosecutor told The Versailles Republican that it is too prejudicial to the accused to have the jurors see them restricted. “They (jurors) might get an idea ‘that he is incarcerated and dangerous’ because he’s handcuffed,” he noted, when asked about the situation. “It’s just too prejudicial,” was the bottom line.

A person facing a jury trial is presumed innocent until proven guilty and has the right to appear in regular street clothes - not a jail uniform - even if they are incarcerated as is Sandlin.

The judge had no choice except to follow the law and advise the defendant of his rights.

Judge Taul apologized to the panel of prospective jurors, thanked them for their time and rescheduled the trial for August 24.

The prosecutor was not happy with the happenings due to much time, effort, and money along with the sensitive nature of this type of case.

Sandlin was originally charged with Battery on a Pregnant Person, a Class C Felony; Strangulation, a Class D Felony; Domestic Battery, a Class A Misdemeanor; and Domestic Battery with Injury-Prior, Class D Felony.

The charges stem from an incident in January when police responded to a 911 call at the Sandlin residence, 8665 S. SR 129 in Cross Plains.

“These cases are always sensitive,” Prosecutor Hertel noted, saying domestic violence is potentially volatile and in this case the pattern of re-offending is possible.

Sandlin was taken from court back to the Ripley County Jail where he will remain until trial unless bail is posted.

The county has to pay each juror $15.00 plus mileage. One court official estimated the cost to the county for the non-trial to be over $800.00.

A new panel of jurors will be selected for the upcoming trial set for August 24.