Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Carleton Penn rejected two defense motions for a mistrial yesterday in the murder case against William (Bull) Evans-Smith as the jury considering the case failed for the third day to reach a verdict.
Attorneys representing the 65-year-old American University official accused of strangling his wife first moved for a mistrial after about 13 hours of jury deliberations. The lawyers said the prosecutor had incorrectly stated in his closing argument that Evans-Smith's hair was found in his wife's right hand. They later sought a mistrial on grounds that the jury was not near a verdict.
Penn rejected both motions and ordered the jury to return to Leesburg this morning for a fourth day, saying there was no indication that the jurors were deadlocked.
Defense lawyer Blair D. Howard had argued that the prosecutor's statement would give the jury the incorrect impression that Evans-Smith was near his wife when she died.
While Penn denied the motion, he later brought the jury back into the courtroom and told them the prosecutor had erred in his statement about the hair. There were "no hairs in the right hand of the victim," the judge said.
"I think he corrected the record," Howard said outside the courthouse.
"It certainly wasn't an intentional misstatement," said Commonwealth's Attorney William Burch outside his office. He said he didn't think the judge's additional instruction would "have any effect" on the jurors.
Howard made his second motion about 4:30 p.m., saying that the jury had had "more than ample time" to reach a verdict and that the majority now would be pressuring the minority. Furthermore, he said, all the jurors were likely getting pressure from their families at home.
The jurors have been instructed to find Evans-Smith guilty of first- or second-degree murder or not guilty. Under Virginia law juries not only determine guilt but recommend sentences to the judge. Evans-Smith could face 20 years to life for first-degree murder and five to 20 years for second-degree murder.
Burch maintains that Evans-Smith, 65, strangled his wife, Barbara, at their 70-acre Crooked Run Farm, dragged her body by the heels upstairs to her bedroom and made it appear that she had been raped and the house burglarized. A medical examiner testified that Mrs. Evans-Smith was not raped.
The prosecutor has painted a portrait of Evans-Smith as cornered by pressures created by the end of an 11-year affair with a coworker and a new office computer system that was not working smoothly. "Something snapped," Burch said.
Evans-Smith, director of American University's Foreign Area Studies program, maintains he is innocent and that his wife was alive the morning of April 15 when he left the farm for his job in Washington.
He also testified that he cannot account for money and $8,000 to $10,000 in heirloom jewelry missing from his rustic farmhouse off Rte. 725 near Hamilton.
Howard first objected to Burch's statement about hair during his closing arguments to the jury on Monday. Judge Penn then said: "You stated your recollection . . . . This is the prosecution's recollection . . . . The jury will be the final arbitrator." Burch was allowed to continue.
Yesterday Howard cited three law cases in making his request for a mistrial about 11 a.m. The judge ordered that the tapes of the testimony on hair and the closing arguments be played for the lawyers during the lunch break.