Monday Feb 01 2010
Madsen not guilty of first-degree murder
By: Eric Laughlin, The Press Tribune
Third mistrial declared after jury splits evenly on second-degree murder
After two days worth of deliberations, a Placer County jury Monday found 28-year-old Caleb John Madsen not guilty of murder in the first degree for the July 9, 2005 stabbing death of his acquaintance Christopher Worth. The same jury, however, did split right down the middle on a charge of second-degree murder, causing Judge Robert McElhany to declare a mistrial. Such a ruling means the Placer County District Attorney’s Office has the right to re-try Madsen, but only for second-degree murder or manslaughter. Prosecutor Jeff Wilson said his office plans to discuss the case and have a decision by next Monday. For all parties involved, it’s been quite the legal ride. This latest trial was the third for Madsen, who has been jailed without bail since his July 14, 2005 arrest. In March 2008, a jury deadlocked 7 to 5 in favor of guilt on the first-degree murder charge and last spring another one came even closer to conviction with a finding of 10 to 2. Madsen’s attorney Mary Beth Acton said it would be a travesty of justice if charges are filed for a fourth time. “The 6 to 6 split speaks for itself,” she said, “but I’m not confident about anything at this point. I just feel horrible that an innocent man was incarcerated for so long. How is someone presumed innocent and kept locked up for five years? He served way more time than most people who actually commit crimes.” In the trial, Acton had argued that there was no evidence linking Madsen to Worth’s murder. She also accused Placer County detectives of conducting a poor investigation after they began to suspect Madsen. Though Madsen was the last person to see the 23-year-old Worth alive, the prosecution did not introduce any forensic evidence directly linking Madsen to the body, the believed murder weapon (a survival knife), or Worth’s truck, which the prosecution said Madsen used to transport his body to a field on Cavitt Stallman Road. Jury foreman Mike Nissly was one of the six who voted for second-degree murder, but said it was a lack of solid evidence that caused such a firm split among jurors. “The forensics were just not there in some peoples’ opinion,” he said. “They gave us a lot of circumstantial evidence, but no solid forms of evidence like a fingerprint or blood on the knife.” Nissly said the unanimous decision to acquit Madsen on the more serious first-degree murder charge came right away. “I think it was on the second ballot that we decided he was not guilty of that charge,” he said. “First-degree murder by definition includes premeditation and we just felt there was not enough evidence of that.” When the verdict was read, the reaction in the courtroom from both the Madsen and Worth families appeared subtle. The only notable response came from a woman supporting Madsen, who clutched a bible to her heart and threw both of her hands in the air while mouthing a prayer. Madsen’s mother Karen appeared relieved by the jury’s decision and said she will continue to support her son. “It’s unfortunate that they’ve altered an innocent young man’s life by keeping him incarcerated all this time,” she said. “If they take away so much, they should have to give back to help him get his life back.” She then said she feels only love for the Worth family and hopes they someday get justice for Christopher’s murder. But Linda Worth said she was very disappointed that the jury didn’t find Madsen guilty. “I thought it was a very clear case from the evidence to the motive,” she said. “I just can’t speak for what was going on in the jurors’ minds.” She went on to say she fears for the safety of the Madsen family. “It’s a real disappointment that their family’s going to have to deal with him now,” she said. “That’s going to be a hardship for them. Hopefully they’ll all keep themselves safe.” Perhaps the most powerful piece of the evidence presented by the prosecution at trial was an audiotape from an interrogation with Madsen when he said Worth was a thief after being asked why he stabbed him. He then, according to detectives, offered up his hands as if to be cuffed while saying, “are you going to take me away now?” Madsen had reportedly suspected Worth of stealing from his family’s amusement park in the time leading up to the murder. But Acton had argued Madsen’s comments not to be an admission and said her client was lied to and intimidated by investigators. After the courtroom was cleared following the verdict reading, prosecutors Wilson and Bill Marchi went outside to speak with the Worth family, while Acton spoke with jurors in the hallway. The lead detective for the prosecution stayed upstairs while two jurors tried to explain to him their decision. Madsen was transported back to the Placer County Jail, where he will await news of the case’s fate. If the District Attorney’s Office does choose to re-try him, he could remain in custody awaiting another trial. But even if the DA does elect to keep the case alive, a judge would have the ultimate say in whether or not it proceeds.