Hung jury stops trial in Rangely hatchet slaying

A lone juror in a trial lasting more than a month Meeker prevented conviction of a man in the hatchet slaying of his father in Rangely.

Others who weighed the defendant’s fate alternately described the circumstance of a holdout juror as the weakness or strength of the jury system.

The 12-person jury began deliberations Feb. 2 in the case of Jerry Snider Jr. But Judge Gail Nichols declared a mistrial a week later after the panel failed to reach a unanimous verdict. Eleven of the jurors decided Snider was guilty of first-degree murder, but the 12th didn’t agree.

Ninth Judicial District Attorney Martin Beeson said a retrial is scheduled for May 4 through June 8.

Snider, 30, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the July 2009 murder of Jerry Snider Sr. in the elder Snider’s Rangely home.

“Certainly I respect the jury’s final outcome,” Beeson said.

Prosecutors sought to have the holdout juror excused for misconduct, but Nichols declined to consider the allegation, saying if misconduct were established, the result would be a mistrial, the same as in the case of a hung jury.

“I’m very frustrated,” juror Joey Brasfield said later Wednesday, “frustrated with the time that it took out of my life for nothing, and the taxpayer money that was at stake.”

He said the dissenting juror wouldn’t give direction to others on the panel or try to work with them.

“I think that we need to fix our system. We can’t be held hostage in the jury room because of one juror,” said Brasfield, who said he’s convinced Snider is “a cold-blooded killer.”

But jury foreman Mike Brennan indicated that while he disagrees with the holdout, he respects the requirement for a unanimous verdict for a conviction, and there’s something to be said for sticking to one’s convictions under pressure.

“I admire that that’s the way it is. That’s what makes the jury system work. If we were able to sit there and browbeat that person into submission, then our jury system is down the drain.”

The holdout juror could not be reached for comment.

Coincidentally, Brennan served as the jury foreman in the last murder trial in Meeker. In 1999, Chuck McDowell was convicted of first-degree murder after shooting his wife a year earlier in Glenwood Springs. The trial was moved to Meeker because of pretrial publicity.

Brennan said the hardest thing for many jurors Wednesday was sitting in court after the mistrial and hearing Nichols schedule a retrial due to the hung jury.

“We hadn’t done our job, hadn’t been able to do our job,” he said.

Brennan said he pretty much went without income for five weeks because he is self-employed as a saddle maker. He said some other jurors also were hit hard by the time away from their jobs, but none of them wanted to quit the case.

Snider’s public defenders are expected to again seek a change of venue in the case because of pretrial publicity, something Nichols rejected for the first trial. Beeson said he again would oppose moving the trial.

Dozens of witnesses had been called for the trial and now face the prospect of having to testify once again.

“We’ll get it done. We got it done the first time. We’ll get it done the second time,” Beeson said.

Asked what the trial has cost his office, he said, “I don’t have the figures on that, but I can tell you that it’s substantial.”

Snider remains in the Rio Blanco County jail on a no-bond hold. Beeson has ruled out the death penalty in the case, but Snider faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.


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