Mistrial Declared as Jury Deadlocks 8-4 for Conviction; New Trial Anticipated
By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Capitol Bureau
SACRAMENTO – The jury in the felony assault trial of a white supremacist couldn’t reach a verdict here Monday – jurors deadlocked 8-4 for conviction – and some jurors said it was because they didn’t believe a key prosecution witness, and gave more credibility to the testimony of the defendant despite his controversial views.
The news came after parts of four days of jury deliberation, including long days of legal wrangling about how much to allow the jury to be told about the bloody riot between the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Workers Party and anti-fascists counter protestors on June 26, 2016. Seven anti-fascists were hospitalized after stabbings and beatings on the South Side of the State Capitol.
William Planer, a Sacramento native and Colorado resident, remains in the Sacramento County Jail on $600,000 bail, where he’s been for about a year and a half. He has a hearing Feb. 8, and, a possible mid-March date for a new trial. The District Attorney’s office hasn’t confirmed plans for a re-trial. The court rejected a request to lower Planer’s bail awaiting new trial.
The jurors told Sacramento Superior Court Judge Stacy Boulware Eurie that they were hopelessly deadlocked after five ballots since the jury went out last Wednesday. They came back briefly Friday with the same story, but the judge sent them back to deliberate Friday afternoon. Monday morning, the jury said they were done.
“No amount of deliberation would have made a difference. The ballots were the same every time,” said one juror, speaking after court was adjourned Monday morning. That juror and others said that Alice Summers, the anti-fascist protestor hit in the head with a pole wielded by Planer, had “no credibility” on the stand and that Planer, who testified on his own behalf, was more credible.
“It came down to whether we believed that the defendant was impaired by the bear mace that was just sprayed in his face, or not,” said another juror. “Some of us believed it did” (and excused his knockout swing on Summers) “and some of us did not.”
Several jurors also had big questions about law enforcement, echoing the suggestion by defense counsel Matt Martinez on close last week when he alleged, “The cops created the situation, whether they meant to do so or not. Officers sent them (Planer and the TWP) in without protection.” He said an officer told the TWP to enter from the South Side of the Capitol where there were no officers to protect them – although on the North Side where TWP was heading there were more than 100 officers, mounted police and bicycles.
Law enforcement “for whatever reason” led Planer and the Traditionalist Workers Party (TWP) into a trap when 100-150 protestors charged the 20 TWP members, engaging them with sticks, stones, rocks and pepper spray,” said Martinez in his closing argument last week. The CHP has been criticized by members of the Legislature and others for not doing more to prevent or stop the melee.
“We thought CHP officer (Donovan) Ayers was good (but) we did wonder about why no officers were around, and why there was no video by the CHP,” said a juror, adding, “We wanted to know more about what happened out there.”
The court and the prosecution, however, pointedly limited what the jury was being told about the brawl. Jurors didn’t know anti-fascists had been hospitalized by weapon-wielding TWP members. Not allowing the “totality” of what happened, as the defense described it, to go to the jurors was a major source of frustration for the defense.
Michelle Spaulding, part of the defense team that included Jem Martin and Martinez, said later Monday that the “DA didn’t meet the burden of proof for conviction. The jury thought Mr. Planer was credible. This trial was not about Mr. Planer’s beliefs, but about his right to self-defense at the Capitol,” adamantly maintaining that Planer had no weapons and only used a stick he took from someone attacking him.
“I respect the jury’s decision. The prosecution didn’t prove their case,” said Martinez, a former deputy district attorney in Merced, adding that Planer and the defense team are looking forward to the re-trial, if there is one.
It’s the first prosecution stemming from the bloody protest at State Capitol nearly three years ago. A trial of three anti-fascists, accused of riot and assault of the white supremacist group, in January were bound over for a trial that could begin as early as March. They have a February pretrial conference.
In the Planer case, Deputy District Attorney Casey Sinclair told the 12 jurors it is an “unusual case,” and that “it’s not often you have evidence that is recorded. There is no fighting about what happened. We all know what he (Planer) did…we can see it on video. The question is whether the law excuses the crime? Did Mr. Planer use self-defense? Does the law excuse (the assault)?”
Planer can clearly be seen using a wooden stick to club Alice Summers from behind as she struggled to get up off the ground seconds after the TWP and anti-fascists clashed on the South Side lawn and sidewalk.
DDA Sinclair then gave the jury a crash law school course on the elements of the crime, explaining that Planer knew what he was doing, and, while he believed he was in danger, he couldn’t use this self-defense or defense of others argument.
“When he hit Ms. Summers in the head he must reasonably believe he was in imminent danger…but there is zero evidence” that she was a threat. She was getting up off the ground, on her knees and had no weapon,” said Sinclair, noting that Planer “ran around other people” to get behind her and then “takes a backswing and hit her directly in the head. He is not being attacked by anyone.
“He used more force than necessary, and he initiated the fight…the initial aggressor can’t claim self-defense,” Sinclair asserted to the jury.
Martinez suggested the prosecution “wants you to think that Alice Summers was there for a picnic. But she went there for a fight. No mistake. She caused a fight. They want you to ignore that. You have to look at it in totality (and) all the factors that Mr. Planer was dealing with at the time. Put yourself in his position,” said Martinez.
“His beliefs are not relevant. Any reasonable person would feel threatened, hearing people scream ‘Die Nazi Scum,’ and ‘Death to Fascists,’” said Martinez, pointing out, “Why did the prosecution not play sound with video? That’s misleading.
“Alice Summers didn’t tell the truth. Her goal was to stop them (TWP) from speaking. She had an agenda. She’s not some baby in the woods; she’s an active member in a riot…Mr. Planer didn’t bring a stick to the event, he didn’t kick someone….no, that was Ms. Summers,” said Martinez, driving home the point that Planer only struck out to protect himself and others.