Killpack jurors loathed verdict

Date: 2005-10-17

Killpack jurors loathed verdict

They wanted to convict husband of child abuse

Copyright 2005 Deseret Morning News
By Tad Walch Deseret Morning News
Published: October 17, 2005

OREM — Jurors who found Jennete Killpack guilty and her husband Richard not guilty of child-abuse homicide in the death of their 4-year-old daughter told the Deseret Morning News they intensely disliked the split-verdict decision but did not have enough evidence to convict him of the charges.

"We wished there had been two separate charges, one for child abuse homicide and one for child abuse," one of the jurors told the newspaper. "If there had been, the verdict would have been different. Richard Killpack would have been guilty of child abuse."

The jury was whisked away from the courtroom by four security guards after their verdict was announced Tuesday night, and the jurors were glad they didn't have to confront the media at that time.

"We were quivery, quaky and on the verge of tears ourselves," one said.

They still want to remain anonymous and don't want to do any more interviews.

"Most don't want to be identified," one said, "because they're afraid that wherever we go, whatever we do, people would come up to us and ask, 'Why'd you do that? What were you thinking?' "

But five of them gathered Sunday night for the first time since the trial to tell their story and explain the split decision. Two others joined in a written statement. The eighth was out of state on vacation and could not be reached.

"We really want to send a message to the prosecutors, the defense team, the defendants, their friends and families, especially, to let them know we didn't absolve Richard of all guilt. It was a technicality that spared him, it really was," one juror said. "It's just to clarify. We're not asking anyone to agree with us. But they weren't there. They weren't asked to follow the rules we had to."

Richard and Jennete Killpack were charged with child-abuse homicide in 4th District Court after Cassandra, an adopted daughter, died after midnight on June 10, 2002. The state medical examiner and other expert medical witnesses testified that she was forced to drink too much water, causing her brain to swell and the amount of sodium in her body to drop to a fatal level.

"Determining the cause of death was the first thing we did," one juror said. "The evidence was overwhelming that it was too much water. The experts explained that beyond any doubt."

They deliberated for nearly six hours, quickly determining that Jennete Killpack was guilty. They eventually decided her husband was not.

"We all agreed water killed her and that Rick had nothing to do with the water that night," a juror said.

They still don't know when the water — as much as a gallon, according to medical testimony — was forced on Cassandra. They knew Richard Killpack came home from church-related visits that Sunday night to find Cassandra tussling with her mother. He stopped the fighting by holding Cassandra's hands behind her back, but the collaboration of three witnesses convinced the jury that the parents did not force Cassandra to drink any water at that time.

The girl had been forced to consume water at an earlier time, and there was no evidence Richard Killpack was there for any of it.

"The question was, on June 9th, 2002, did Mr. Killpack recklessly cause or permit the child abuse that led to Cassandra's death?" the jurors said in their statement.

The answer, they said, was no.

They were frustrated there was no charge they could use to convict Richard Killpack, even though they believed they had enough evidence to convict him of child abuse.

Prosecutors initially also charged the Killpacks with child abuse. The charge was related to emotional suffering prosecutors said Cassandra's 7-year-old sister suffered because her mother sent her to get rope to tie Cassandra's hands behind her back. Cassandra was being punished after she allegedly sipped from another sister's drink.

But Judge James Taylor dismissed the abuse charge after a preliminary hearing, ruling prosecutors hadn't proved severe emotional trauma. Prosecutors chose not to refile the charge.

The jurors were devastated that their decision could put Jennete Killpack in prison for up to 15 years. She will be sentenced Dec. 7.

"To take a mother away from her children . . . " one juror said with her head in her hands.

"It was so unsettling," another said. "I felt like we couldn't give out the verdict we should. But the law didn't allow us to do more."

Jennete Killpack's attorney, Mike Esplin, has said the introduction of evidence of prior acts of child abuse might have tainted the jury and might be grounds for appeal.

"It didn't have anything to do with our verdict," one of the jurors said.

"If it did," a male juror added, "then Rick would have been guilty."

They called the possibility of an appeal of Jennete Killpack's conviction "ridiculous."

They also said the six-week trial was an ordeal made bearable by an unusual closeness that developed between the jurors. It was hard not to discuss the case with their spouses and, in the case of one juror, with co-workers who knew the Killpacks. But it was especially difficult not to discuss it with each other until after all the testimony was completed.

Some are relaxed about their decision. Others were glad to gather Sunday and find some closure. One said she still lives with the case every day, and another said her spouse has worried she gave in to the others.

"My husband has been on my case all day every day about why we said Mrs. Killpack was guilty," she said. "He knew my feelings going in; I had never intended to say 'guilty.' I thought there would be extenuating circumstances. But it came down to reasonable care. It's not reasonable to force food or water on a child, and we just followed the evidence."

Two of the jurors were from Provo, two from Orem and two from Spanish Fork. One was from Santaquin and one from Elk Ridge. They began their deliberations with prayer, though they represented different faiths.

The bottom line, several mentioned, was the same as what they'd heard from jurors in the highly publicized acquittals of O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson. They thought Richard Killpack was guilty, but they didn't have the evidence under the law to return a guilty verdict.

E-mail: twalch@desnews.com

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