They weren’t close to a decision, leaning one way or another. It was a “hopelessly deadlocked” jury, as Judge Clifford Anderson put it. A decision split right down the middle, according to some jurors, led to a mistrial Tuesday in the case of Ernesto Botello. Botello had been on trial for misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.
Last September, 12-year-old Jake Boysel was riding his bicycle to La Colina Junior High along Calle Real, near Highway 154, when he was hit by Botello’s 1997 Ford Expedition as he drove to his job in the city’s planning department. Botello, 24, has maintained that the sun was glaring in his eyes and he didn’t see Boysel.
And after nearly three days of deliberation over a week’s worth of time, the jury couldn’t come to a conclusion. Judge Anderson said he interviewed each of the five men and seven women on the jury individually before deciding to declare a mistrial. He commended the group for their work, and told them it wasn’t a requirement for jurors to come up with a unanimous verdict. “In this situation, you’ve done your job very well indeed,” Anderson said.
Outside the courtroom were groups of people with ranging emotions. In one corner Botello, his supporters, and family quietly exchanged hugs. Botello declined to comment, as did his family. But his attorney, Neil Levinson, said Botello feels as bad as anyone. “This is the worst thing that’s ever happened in his life,” Levinson said. The collision was “completely accidental,” Levinson said, and while the jury has reached a temporary resolution, he was disappointed because he didn’t feel there was a strong enough case against his client.
On the main level of the courthouse Boysel’s parents, their friends and family gathered. Jim Boysel, Jake’s father, remembered the boy as a fun child who loved history and was involved in a lot of things. “We’re never going to get closure,” Jake’s father said. The Boysels said they hadn’t received an apology from Botello, or had any communication with him, although Botello’s mother did come to visit the family in the hospital the day of the accident. “Obviously, we believe Mr. Botello was guilty,” Jim Boysel said. Jake’s mother, Karen added that the boy did everything right on his ride to school.
Boysel was riding in the bike lane when he was struck from behind by Botello’s Expedition. Boysel’s backpack was embedded in the grill of the SUV, one strap ripped at the seam, the other with its plastic latch broken. The boy’s helmet and shoes went flying from the impact, and pieces of the boy’s Trek mountain bicycle were strewn all over the road.
Basic California speed laws state that “no person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent, having due regard” for weather, visibility and other extenuating circumstances. But after “turning the evidence over,” as one juror put it, the 12 couldn’t agree that Botello was negligent.
Juror Elie Rodrigue said he couldn’t pinpoint just one issue the jury was hung-up on, but said discussions were “very tense” on some of the subject matter. The sun being in Botello’s eyes was talked about a lot, according to juror Gale Howell. Howell compared the case to the Bible, saying it can be interpreted in different ways by different people.
Prosecutor Ali Neufer said the case posed a difficult question for the jury to answer, and she commended the 12 for wrestling for an answer as long as they did – “They did an extremely thorough job.” After speaking with some of the jurors, Neufer said there was not one evidentiary issue which was decisive. “I’m confident they did everything they could to come to a decision.” The option to retry the case is on the table, but Neufer said it was too early to tell whether that would be pursued.