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Fifth try at murder conviction ends with hung jury

Published: Sat, August 14, 2010 @ 12:05 a.m.




After the equivalent of almost two full days of deliberations, a seven-man, five-woman jury was unable to reach a verdict in the trial of Christopher Anderson for the 2002 murder of Amber Zurcher.

At about 2:30 p.m. Friday, the jurors, who started their deliberations Wednesday afternoon, informed Judge James C. Evans of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court that they were deadlocked hopelessly.

The two-week trial that ended Friday as a mistrial was the fifth trial attempt for Anderson, who was returned to county jail to await further action in his case.

Anderson, 42, of South Main Street, Austintown, was one of several people who attended a party in Zurcher’s Compass West apartment in Austintown. After everyone else left, Anderson returned and strangled the 22-year-old Zurcher with a cord June 3, 2002, prosecutors allege.

Rebecca Doherty, an assistant county prosecutor, said her preference would be to retry Anderson and that she would consult with others in her office on the matter. She added, however, “It’s not set in stone yet, obviously, that we’re going to retry him.”

“I believe he committed this murder in 2002, and I believe our evidence will tell the jury that,” she said, explaining why she favors another trial.

Because “a significant number of those jurors” expressed after this month’s trial a strong belief that Anderson is guilty, Doherty said: “I can’t very well walk away from that.”

Anderson’s first trial in May 2003 was declared a mistrial because of “an unsolicited comment” from a witness.

Anderson’s second trial in November 2003 resulted in a conviction and a sentence of 15 years to life in prison, but the 7th District Court of Appeals overturned that conviction in September 2006, citing “cumulative error” in the trial.

A third trial in December 2008 ended with a hung jury, which Doherty said voted 11-1 for conviction.

A fourth attempt last April ended in a mistrial after a defense lawyer fell asleep in the courtroom during jury selection.

Doherty said having multiple trials in such cases is not unprecedented. Doherty recalled a case she tried as an assistant Summit County prosecutor, in which four trials of a murder suspect resulted in a hung jury, but he was convicted in his fifth trial.

Anderson’s defense lawyer, John B. Juhasz, declined to comment after the jury declared itself deadlocked.

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