Judge declares mistrial in Valencia-Gaona case

Jurors wrongly received list of potential witnesses

The trial of murder suspect Jose Valencia-Gaona was ruled invalid following the discovery that a list of potential witnesses was mistakenly handed out by Jackson County Circuit Court officials to jurors before the hearing.

Valencia-Gaona's lead defense attorney made a motion Wednesday afternoon for a mistrial after seeing the list of 60 potential witnesses and a brief description of each's testimony in the hand of a jury member.

Christopher Missiaen called the trial a "mess," and the jury pool "tainted," arguing his 45-year-old client Valencia-Gaona had no chance of a fair trial with jury members having improperly received the list.

The trial was in the midst of its second day.

"A juror should receive no information about the case except through the witness stand," Missiaen said.

Prosecuting the case, Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Virginia Greer called the court's misstep "very inappropriate."

Niether Greer nor Missiaen knew the list, which was intended for court use only, was handed out to all potential jurors who reported for duty, they said in court.

Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Tim Barnack granted the motion for a mistrial after an impassioned argument from Missiaen and little word of dispute from Greer.

Initially, Barnack said his preference was to seek out some "curative," measure and continue the trial, but gave up his stance following a court recess.

"There was a legal defect in the proceeding. ...The (witness) lists were handed to potential jurors prior to the court being on record," Barnack said.

Following Wednesday's hearing, Barnack said he would not comment of the ruling.

Greer and Missiaen also declined to comment.

Another pretrial hearing for the case was scheduled for July 28, and Valencia-Gaona will remain lodged without bail in the Jackson County Jail — awaiting a second trial.

Valencia-Gaona has pleaded not guilty to murdering 38-year-old Maria Guadalupe Rodriguez.

Police believe Valencia-Gaona stabbed Rodriguez to death at about 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 1 outside her apartment in the 1900 block of Table Rock Road.

In Tuesday's opening statements, prosecutors said text messages on Rodriguez's phone, analyzed by detectives, show she had been in the midst of a breakup with someone, labeled in her phone as "Jose 2."

A knife that witnesses said was discarded by a fleeing suspect was found near the scene, prosecutors said. DNA found on the blade matched Rodriguez's, and DNA found on the handle matched Valencia-Gaona's, prosecutors said.

Defense attorneys told jurors that the state's case has several holes, and that there is not enough evidence pointing to Valencia-Gaona as the attacker.

Valencia-Gaona, listening to the hearing from the defense table through a set of headphones linking him to in-court interpreters, showed little emotion as his attorneys explained to him the circumstances of the mistrial.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.

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