Hung jury results in mistrial
Mueller released on bond after inability to reach verdict
Times Staff Writer
Originally published 2013-02-14
After three days of jury selection, 16 days of testimony and three more days of deliberation, a 12-member jury failed to come to a consensus in the case of Frederick Mueller.
In what was viewed by some as an anti-climactic finish to a marathon trial, Judge J. Stephen Patrick declared a mistrial after jurors reached an impasse around noon this past Saturday.
Mueller, 51, was on trial for first-degree murder in the death of his wife Leslie Mueller, who was found dead in Cottonwood Creek near the couple’s Lake City home in May 2008. Investigators didn’t believe Mueller’s version of events — that his wife fell off a 15-foot cliff above the creek, landed on her head and shoulders on a granite slab below and was carried downstream through a series of waterfalls and pools.
She was found face-down with her head under a log and her feet pointed upstream in a shallow section of the creek. Forensic pathologist Michael Benziger of Montrose determined the cause of death to be drowning.
Prosecutors spent the next four years crafting their case, and in February 2012, Mueller was arrested at his business in San Angelo, Texas. He was held in the Gunnison County jail for the next year, but was released on a $150,000 bond on Saturday following the mistrial announcement — much to the relief of his daughters, Amanda and Ariel, who sat behind the defense table throughout the course of the trial and offered their comments to the media as their father was returned to the jail one final time prior to his release.
“The circumstances (of his release) are not ideal,” admitted Ariel Mueller. “It could have been better, but it could have been a lot worse. We’ll deal with it together.”
As far as what this means for the case, “it’ll drive me crazy if I try to speculate what they’re going to do,” she said.
For now, Mueller is a free man and has returned to his Texas home after agreeing to make bail and surrender his passport until a decision on how to proceed has been made.
A date was established for another trial, April 29, which will occur in Montrose, should prosecutors decide to continue. They have 90 days to retry. A status hearing is scheduled for this coming Tuesday at 2 p.m. at the Gunnison County Courthouse, which Mueller will be permitted to attend via telephone.
District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller admitted, as proceedings wrapped up early Saturday afternoon, that he’s “never been through these circumstances before.”
The jury indicated last Thursday that they had come to a standstill, but were instructed by the judge to try to come to an agreement. Eleven of the 12 jurors agreed on a not-guilty verdict, but one was not convinced of Mueller’s innocence — enough doubt to result in the mistrial.
Though the case didn’t offer the finality that some had hoped for, it’s likely that the majority of the parties who spent the last five weeks in court — from jurors, law enforcement, family and members of the press — are ready to return to their lives.
Hinsdale County Deputy Sheriff Andy Dozier, who spent the trial’s five weeks policing the door to the courtroom and inspecting audience members’ belongings, said he’s excited to get back to his life.
“Five weeks and change of sitting — I’d rather be out and about,” he said.
Grant Houston, owner and publisher of the Lake City Silver World, said that he too was ready to return home, after basically living at a motel and spending four days a week in the courtroom. He pointed out that it’s been a long time since anyone was tried for a murder in Hinsdale County. Despite his long career as a reporter in Lake City, Houston said this is the first murder trial he’s covered.
“There’s been a vast amount of interest,” said Houston. “People can’t get enough.”
According to his research, which consisted of interviewing old-timers from Lake City, possibly not since the notorious 1883 trial of Alferd Packer — who wandered into Gunnison in April 1874 after cannibalizing his companions near Slumgullion Pass — has anyone been tried for a murder alleged to have occurred in or around Lake City.
Though Packer still lives infamously in a chapter of Hinsdale County history, Houston said he doubts Mueller will maintain the same notoriety. Yet, he pointed out, many people in Lake City are still yearning for the truth behind Leslie Mueller’s death.
“People have really taken it to heart. It wasn’t just a fatality that they’re going to bat for,” he said, adding that some individuals involved in the initial investigation in 2008 still have Leslie Mueller’s photo on their desk, a reminder that — for them, at least — justice is still being sought.
(Laura Anderson can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org)