D.C. Superior Court's oldest murder case is going to get even older before it's over.
The long-delayed trial of Ida Chase ended yesterday in a mistrial after jurors said they were hopelessly deadlocked on whether she had a role in killing a 69-year-old salesman during a robbery eight years ago.
Chase, 52, who has been jailed since 1999 on charges that she and her husband suffocated Julius Adelman in Northeast Washington, will almost certainly be retried -- adding another chapter to a case that has outlasted her now-deceased husband. Charles Chase died in January while awaiting trial.
But if the jury split is any measure, prosecutors have the edge in pursuing another trial. Although jurors ultimately acquitted Chase of first-degree premeditated murder, the vote was 10 to 2 to convict her of first-degree felony murder.
Prosecutors said they have not decided whether to retry the case.
For nearly 40 years, Adelman, of Randallstown, Md., drove his station wagon on routes in Maryland and the District selling television sets, dishes and other household goods. He also made loans to his many customers, operating mostly by word of mouth.
He was found dead July 8, 1996, in the 300 block of Randolph Place NE. His body was wrapped in a comforter, his wrists and ankles were bound with duct tape, and his head was covered with a pillowcase. An autopsy determined that he had been suffocated.
The Chases were longtime customers from Northeast Washington who owed Adelman about $14,000, prosecutors said. The day he was killed, prosecutors said, the couple lured Adelman to their home promising to repay him out of a large check that they wanted him to cash. But in fact, the couple intended to rob him of the several thousand dollars that he would be carrying, prosecutors said.
They were arrested about three years after the slaying.
First scheduled for June 2000, the trial has been put off 11 times. Most of the requests for postponements have come from the defense attorneys, often because a new lawyer was stepping into the case or because new evidence had emerged.
Adelman's widow, Ruth, said last night that the lead prosecutor, Deborah L. Sines, did a commendable job in the trial but that the passage of so much time made it a challenge to win a conviction. Not only was one of the defendants dead by the time the trial started, but so were a couple of the original witnesses, she said. And after eight years, the witnesses who were still around had less than perfect memories, she said.
"She put on a terrific case, the prosecutor, but it would have been better if we had done it earlier, and the reason we didn't do it earlier is because the judges kept postponing it," Ruth Adelman said.
The trial began last month in front of Judge Patricia A. Broderick, the third judge to handle the case.
During the trial, prosecutors presented circumstantial evidence that they said linked Ida Chase to the killing, including carpet fibers from her home that matched those found on Adelman's body. Ida Chase did not testify.
The jury spent more than a week in deliberations but reported problems early on. On Monday, the jurors sent notes to the judge saying they could not reach a verdict.
The judge told them to continue deliberating. Yesterday morning, the jury reported that it had acquitted Chase of premeditated murder but that it was still deadlocked on the rest of the charges.
Judge Henry F. Greene, standing in for Broderick, gave jurors a final order to continue deliberating. But when they returned a few hours later, still deadlocked, Greene had little choice but to declare a mistrial.
A hung jury was hardly the outcome either side sought. But it was nonetheless a victory for defense attorneys Renee P. Raymond and Alison Flaum of the D.C. Public Defender Service, who evidently raised doubts in the case.
For the Adelman family, the mistrial will mean continuing to wait for a resolution. For Ida Chase, jailed since her arrest, the mistrial could mean more time behind bars awaiting a final ruling.
The court has scheduled a hearing for next month to determine whether Chase should be released pending another trial.