Lawyer’s sleeping in court leads judge to call mistrial



The murder case against Christopher Anderson goes back to 2003, but after a courtroom mishap, it will be few more months before it again is heard by a jury.

Anderson is accused in the June 2002 strangulation of 22-year-old Amber Zurcher of Austintown.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys were set for the start of a third trial in the case this week but did not make it past jury selection before Judge James C. Evans of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court declared a mistrial.

A prospective juror pointed out that one of the defense attorneys had been sleeping during questioning of potential jurors.

Atty. John B. Juhasz, representing Anderson, was doing the questioning. One prospective juror told Juhasz she could not continue to pay proper attention when co-counsel Atty. David Gerchak was sleeping in the courtroom.

“That just unnerved me. This is a man here [on trial], and your partner is sleeping. Wow!” the woman said.

Gerchak explained that his sleeping in no way demonstrates a lack of interest in the case. He said he has just been diagnosed with diabetes and is taking medications to control the disease, but those medications can make him fall asleep.

“My blood sugar must have plummeted, and I didn’t even realize it,” he said.

Judge Evans, after a lengthy discussion with prosecutors and defense attorneys, apologized to the jury and declared a mistrial. The judge said the best option is to start fresh at a later time.

Dawn Cantalamessa and Becky Doherty, assistant county prosecutors, refused to comment on the judge’s decision or the case because it would be coming before the court again.

A new court date tentatively has been set for July 19.

Prosecutors contend that Anderson, of Austintown, was one of several people who attended a party in Zurcher’s apartment. After everyone else left, Anderson returned and strangled Zurcher with a cord, prosecutors said.

Anderson’s first trial in May 2003 was declared a mistrial after a comment from a witness on the stand calling Anderson a “freak” and a mention of an alleged attack on another woman.

Anderson was convicted in November 2003 and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, but the 7th District Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in September 2006 on the grounds of “cumulative error” in the original trial.

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