Eureka >> A McKinleyville man’s bid for a new trial on child molestation charges was denied Tuesday by a California appellate court.
Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming said she will confer with attorneys for Timothy Floyd Littlefield to determine the next step in the case, which dates to his 2009 arrest on allegations he regularly molested an 8-year-old family member for more than a year.
Fleming said she has no plans to take Littlefield back into custody and probably will talk with his defense team within the next two weeks about what proceedings will be scheduled next.
Arcata defense attorney Russell Clanton, who has represented Littlefield in the past, did not return a phone call Tuesday. The appellate court’s decision also could be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Littlefield was tried in 2011 and 2013 with both cases ending in a mistrial.
After he was found guilty by a jury in September 2013, Superior Court Judge John Feeney declared a mistrial because a juror indicated the defense had not proved the defendant innocent.
Feeney ruled the juror misunderstood the basis of U.S. criminal justice, that defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
On Tuesday, Justice Robert Dondero, writing for the California 1st District Court of Appeals, denied Littlefield’s request for a new trial based on Feeney’s mistrial declaration.
“In sum, we find (the juror’s) statements regarding his mental processes during jury deliberations are irrelevant in assessing the validity of the verdict,” Dondero wrote. “We think the appropriate remedy is not to affirm the order setting aside the verdict based solely on irrelevant evidence and speculation about what defendant could have proved, but to remand for further proceedings to determine whether relevant and admissible evidence of jury misconduct actually exists.”
For Littlefield’s lawyers to press their claims, the justices ruled, the actions must be shown to be misconduct and prejudicial to the verdict.
“When they make a motion for a new trial, the burden is on the defense to present evidence of juror misconduct,” Fleming said.
The juror, identified by the initials M.L, had told an investigator for Clanton that the defense had no theory for what happened, according to the appellate court decision, “I did not feel that the defense had ‘proven’ their case,” the juror said. “It was my belief that they were obligated to do this in order to find Timothy Littlefield not guilty.”
At a later hearing, the juror recanted his statement and had not read the information thoroughly.
In a criminal case, the burden is on the prosecution to prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense team is under no obligation to present any case at all.
After Feeney declared a mistrial, the state attorney general’s office intervened, arguing that the juror’s mental processes could not constitute juror misconduct. The justices found Feeney correctly instructed jurors about presumed innocence and that the defendant’s failure to explain or deny evidence against him does not prove guilt.
The justices said all of the juror’s conflicting statements were inadmissible and irrelevant to the verdict.
“The evidence concerning juror M.L. merely ref lected his mental processes during deliberations,” Justice Dondero wrote. “M.L. did not mention any overt act or statement that would have affected the jury’s reasoning.”
On Dec. 23, 2009, Littlefield was charged with two counts of sexual intercourse or sodomy with a child 10 years old or younger; one count of penetration with a foreign object; one count lewd and lascivious acts upon a child; and seven counts of sex or sodomy with a child.
Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Bruce Watson declared a mistrial after a jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of convicting Littlefield in 2011. During the second trial in September 2013, the jury found Littlefield guilty of all charges. The sentencing hearing was delayed until the following May when Feeney declared the second mistrial.
Littlefield could face up to eight life sentences. Steven Moore can be reached at 707-441-0510.