Hung jury forces judge to dismiss Savage case

Jury stuck on one witness’s testimony
By: Jon Brines Gold Country News Service
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With a Roseville jury deadlocked on guilt or innocence, Judge Colleen Nichols used her authority to dismiss the case against Placer County Lt. John Savage Tuesday with no possibility of a new trial. “I’m smiling today,” Savage said after the ruling. “I think today we are in a position now where we can move on with our lives.” Savage was accused of gross negligence in firing a gun into the air outside his then-Rocklin home in October 2009. After two-and-a-half days of deliberations jury foreman and Rocklin resident Chris Randolph said the final vote was 9-2 in favor of not guilty and one juror who remained undecided. Prosecutor Matt Block was disappointed with the result but said he accepted it. “The jury took the responsibility seriously and deliberated for a while,” Block said. “Speaking with them it seems they really wrestled with their decision and I don’t take that lightly.” Without a gun or bullet casings found in the case, Randolph said the verdict hinged on one witness: Danielle Wunder. Wunder, an 18-year-old neighbor, was the only witness who said she saw Savage with an object outside his Lakebreeze Drive home when the shots were fired. During the weeklong trial, two dozen other neighbors testified they heard three to seven shots but didn’t see the shooter. Savage denied accusations by the prosecution that the gun he allegeldy fired was in his car. Savage did not allow Rocklin Police officers to search his or his wife’s vehicles the night shots were reported fired. He also refused to submit to a residue test to determine if he had fired a gun, saying in his testimony on the stand that he thought the test is “inaccurate.” Savage faced a fine and up to one year in jail. Randolph further revealed what the jury discussed during deliberations. “It’s not necessarily that the rest of the group didn’t believe her testimony but we didn’t necessarily know whether she saw what she thought she did,” Randolph explained. Randolph said there were contradictions with what she said on scene that night, later when she was interviewed a second time by police and then when she took the stand last Tuesday. “I think a young person in a tense situation is more likely to confine certain memories together,” Randolph said. “I don’t think she had any ill intent but she even seemed confused about what it was she was seeing. I can’t hinge one person’s fate on that.” Wunder could not be reached for comment Tuesday. One of the juror’s who voted guilty during the deliberations, who didn’t want to be identified, said Wunder’s age helped her credibility. “I thought he was guilty. Based on the eye witness,” the Auburn resident said. “She was a young girl who was nervous. I believe her first statement was true and she was influenced by her mother (Linda Wunder).” Linda Wunder was also called as a witness in the case. The defense tried to undermine her credibility by pointing out she had a bad relationship with the defendant, got him evicted and her own brother was a detective for the agency that investigated the crime, Rocklin Police. Randolph said the defense’s accusation of a conspiracy by the District Attorney to put Savage on trial to show their office is tough on law enforcement was not a factor. “Conspiracy wasn’t anything we put a lot of weight into,” Randolph said. “It was considered but pretty quickly set aside.” Savage’s own testimony wasn’t compelling to the jury either, according to Randolph. “The general sentiment was not to pay attention to the defendant’s own testimony because he has the most to gain by it,” Randolph said. Savage’s brother Steven said he had a heart-to-heart conversation with John Savage before the trial and he believes he is innocent. “I know from the bottom of my heart that he is not guilty,” Steven Savage said. “He cares about his job and will do as good of a job for the community as anyone.” Lt. John Savage continues to work as a watch commander for the Placer County Sheriff’s Office based out of Auburn. That’s something Savage said he is looking forward to continuing. “I can’t be more happy with the place I work,” Savage said. “They looked at the entire case and kept me in my position. They believed in me. That says a lot about my department.”