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Supreme Court: No double jeopardy in murder trial

Posted: May 24, 2012 - 7:22pm

LITTLE ROCK (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld an Arkansas ruling that a man could be retried on a capital murder charge even though the jury forewoman said jurors were unanimous in finding him not guilty.

The forewoman’s statement came after the judge had declared a mistrial in the case of Alex Blueford, 26, of Jacksonville, who was on trial for the 2008 death of 20-month-old Matthew McFadden Jr. Authorities said the toddler was beaten to death, but McFadden testified that he’d accidentally elbowed the toddler in the head.

The jury forewoman in his 2009 trial said the jury was deadlocked, and the Little Rock judge declared a mistrial. But then the forewoman said in court that jurors were unanimously against finding Blueford guilty on murder charges but were deadlocked on manslaughter.

Blueford, of Jacksonville, Ark., argued that being retried on capital murder or first-degree murder charges would constitute double jeopardy. Blueford said the forewoman’s statement, said in open court, meant that he’d been acquitted of the two more serious charges.

The Arkansas Supreme Court rejected that argument last year. And in a 6-3 decision Thursday, so did the U.S. Supreme Court.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said that since the judge declared a mistrial, there was no jury verdict and therefore no double jeopardy.

“The jury in this case did not convict Blueford of any offense, but it did not acquit him of any either,” Roberts wrote in the ruling. “When the jury was unable to return a verdict, the trial court properly declared a mistrial and discharged the jury. As a consequence, the Double Jeopardy Clause does not stand in the way of a second trial on the same offenses.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.

“The forewoman’s announcement in open court that the jury was ‘unanimous against’ conviction on capital and first-degree murder ... was an acquittal for double jeopardy purposes,” Sotomayor wrote.

Before oral arguments were held in February before the U.S. Supreme Court, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said an adverse ruling would have brought on “a major overhaul of our criminal procedure.”

After Thursday’s ruling, McDaniel spokesman Aaron Sadler said, “We are grateful to the court for accepting our arguments and ruling in favor of the state of Arkansas.”

Blueford’s attorney, Clint Miller, didn’t immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

Blueford has been held without bond in the Pulaski County Jail since his arrest in 2008. A capital murder conviction in Arkansas carries a sentence of life in prison or death.

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