Mistrial in Allen baby case

Relates to:
Date: 2004-06-18
Source: Sun Journal

AUBURN - The jurors wrote their last note to the judge at 11:15 a.m. Thursday. They were still stuck.

After 18 hours of deliberations, they agreed that no amount of additional talking would get them any closer to reaching a unanimous decision on whether Sarah Allen was guilty of manslaughter in the death of her adopted son.

Upon receiving the note, Justice Ellen Gorman called the jury into the courtroom and instructed the clerk to ask each juror the same question.

"Do you agree that the jury is hopelessly deadlocked and that future deliberations would be unlikely to provide a unanimous verdict?" the clerk repeated 12 times.

Some jurors answered yes immediately. Others paused before nodding their heads. Three of the female jurors cried as they gave their replies.

Then Gorman declared a mistrial.

A 30-year-old homemaker from Lisbon Falls who quit her job as a hair stylist to take care of her son, Allen wiped her eyes as the jurors were escorted out of the courtroom.

The jury's failure to reach a verdict means that she will remain free on the $10,000 cash bail as the state decides whether to hold another trial or drop the charges.

Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese said she plans to push for a new trial, but she explained that the decision would be made by a team of people, including Attorney General Steven Rowe.

"I think the evidence against Sarah Allen is strong," Marchese said. "The medical evidence is overwhelming."

Allen is accused of shaking her 21-month-old son, Nathaniel, with so much force on Feb. 14, 2003, that the boy's brain bashed back and forth against his skull and ultimately stopped working.

During a two-week trial in Androscoggin County Superior Court, the state questioned 10 doctors who either treated the boy when he was at the hospital or examined his body after he was taken off life support.

They all agreed that he most likely died as a result of being violently jerked or shaken.

Their conclusions were brought into question by another set of experts called by defense lawyer Verne Paradie to testify on Allen's behalf.

Those out-of-state physicians raised questions about Nathaniel's development and the state's handling of the case. After reviewing medical records and watching home videos of the boy, they concluded that he could have had a pre-existing brain disorder.

That disorder, they testified, could have caused the series of falls that Allen claims he took before he became unconscious and she called 911.

No closure

Allen and her family declined to comment as they left the courtroom Thursday. Paradie said the outcome has left them with no closure.

"Obviously, we'll be doing this again," he said.

As a way to avoid another costly trial, the state could offer Allen a deal to plead guilty to a less serious charge. Paradie said he hadn't spoken with her about the possibility of accepting such an offer.

"We're keeping our options open," Paradie said.

The jurors all declined interviews with reporters while leaving the courthouse. As they walked by, one female juror mumbled, "I wish it had been different."

Paradie and Marchese talked with the jury for about an hour Thursday afternoon, but both lawyers refused to share details about the meeting.

Marchese said she didn't believe the jurors got hung up on the conflicting medical testimony. They most likely had a difficult time grasping the concept that a mother could shake her child to death, she said.

Paradie interpreted the outcome differently.

"It certainly shows they were thinking of all of the evidence," he said.

High costs

Both lawyers acknowledged that a second trial would be very expensive for the state and for the Allens, especially given the number of experts who were called to testify.

Marchese, however, didn't think money would play a role in the state's decision.

"I hate to think that they would put a monetary amount on the death of a child," she said.

According to Marchese, it is likely that a second trial would be held in another county because extensive media coverage of the case would make it too difficult to pick an impartial jury from this area.

Although the lawyers had no problem picking a jury for Sarah Allen's first trial, they weren't able to pick one for her husband.

Jeremy Allen, a Navy journalist stationed at the Brunswick Naval Air Station, faces a felony charge of assault for allegedly hitting Nathaniel with a wooden spoon on the night before the boy was rushed to the hospital.

Doctors discovered bruises on the boy's thighs and buttocks after he was rushed to the hospital. According to court documents, both Jeremy and Sarah Allen told investigators that Jeremy had spanked the boy with a spatula the previous night.

Jeremy Allen's trial was initially scheduled for last month. It was postponed after lawyers were unable to pick 14 jurors who they believed would be fair. It is now scheduled for September.

If the state decides to retry Sarah Allen, her trial would probably be held in the fall after Jeremy's trial, Marchese said.

The Allens adopted Nathaniel from Guatemala when he was a year old. The couple was considering becoming foster parents to a second child when the boy died.

As conditions of their bail, they are barred from having contact with children under 10 years old, unless the children are relatives and other adults are present at all times.

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