The concept of double jeopardy — that a person cannot be “subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb” — is enshrined in the Bill of Rights and must be honored.
That said, justice would not be served if Christopher Anderson 43, were not taken to trial for a sixth time in the 2002 strangulation murder of an Austintown woman. Yes, we said sixth. Anderson’s case presents a mind-boggling series of missteps, appeals mistrials and hung juries that might cause someone to exclaim “enough,” — which is what his defense lawyer is saying.
But while Anderson’s lawyer can try to claim that his multiple trials constitute a miscarriage of justice on Anderson, to not try him again would be an undeniable miscarriage of justice for the victim, Amber Zurcher.
The victim and her family deserve yet another day in court.
Normally, arguing for a sixth trial would seem outside the spirit of the Fifth Amendment. But Anderson’s trials have been outside the norm.
Anderson is accused of returning to Zurcher’s apartment in the early morning hours of June 3, 2002, sometime after a party that he had attended broke up. His DNA matched saliva on the dead woman’s breast and skin found under her finger nails. Witnesses said there were scratches on his arm a few days after the murder that they didn’t see the night of the party.
The roster of trials
But his first trial ended in a mistrial when a witness blurted out testimony that the judge had previously ruled as inadmissible.
He was convicted in his second trial, but that conviction was overturned by a 2-1 vote of the 7th District Court of Appeals, in part because testimony similar to that which the judge had ruled as inadmissible in the first trial was allowed to be introduced in the second trial. That same court has now been asked to bar Anderson from being tried again.
A third trial ended in a hung jury.
The fourth trial ended in an early mistrial because a defense lawyer fell asleep during jury selection.
The fifth trial in August 2010 ended in a hung jury after two days of deliberation.
Anderson has remained in custody during these trials and appeals. His most recently scheduled retrial has been delayed for a year after his lawyer, Atty. John Yuhasz, filed a motion stating that another trial would violate Anderson’s right to due process and against double jeopardy.
Certainly this has been an ordeal for Anderson, and it is not what anyone would consider a textbook case of swift justice.
But there was sufficient evidence for Anderson to be indicted. There was sufficient evidence to convince all 12 members of one jury that he should be convicted. There was sufficient evidence for conviction in the eyes of enough members of two other juries that he was not acquitted.
If he were acquitted in a sixth trial, he would be able to claim that he had been treated unfairly. But if there were no sixth trial, there would be no doubt that Amber Zurcher and her family did not receive justice.