Mistrial requested, denied in infant homicide trial

David Paul trial on Wednesday

Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg (center) and public defender Eric Hedland (left) listen as assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp makes a point during a bench conference or sidebar during the David J. Paul homicide trial on Wednesday. Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO News

The defense in the David Paul homicide case called for a mistrial on Wednesday, but the motion was eventually denied by the judge presiding over the trial in Juneau Superior Court.

Paul’s attorney Eric Hedland alleged that former Juneau Police Sargent Paul Hatch offered prejudicial testimony about Paul’s previous conviction for minor consuming alcohol. That originated with Paul, then 18-years old, providing a false name to officers who were responding to a noise complaint.

“Why was it an important thing to you during your interrogation in 2011?” asked assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp.

“Because he was untruthful with me in the past,” answered Hatch.

But this is what Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg said with the jury out of the courtroom several minutes before that particular line of questioning:

“Counsel can elicit that Mr. Paul had a interaction with Sgt. Hatch in 2007 and police talked with him, and there was some conversation. I’m not going to allow the nature of the conversation or that it included false statements.”

While considering Hedland’s mistrial motion at the end of the day on Wednesday, Judge Pallenberg said the jury already knew that Paul gave a false name and any potential damage from such a prejudicial answer by Hatch would likely be limited.

The earlier encounter with police happened about four years before Paul was arrested for the death of four-month old Rian Orr. Paul is charged with murder and manslaughter in connection with the baby’s death in August 2010.

Video image projected for jurors of Sgt. Paul Hatch’s interrogation of David J. Paul on July 8, 2011. Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO News

On Wednesday, jurors heard two conversations with Paul that were recorded by investigators.

The first interrogation occurred eleven months after the baby died while Paul was in police custody at the Juneau Police Department. It lasted about fifty minutes.

Paul said he accidentally dropped her in the bathroom and shook her once, while saying ‘Hey’, to get her to stop crying.

“Did her head go straight back and flop up, or did it go in circle like in a figure-eight?” asked Hatch during the interrogation.

“I don’t quite remember,” answered Paul. “I all saw was that it went back and came forward and she held her head back up again. She was still crying a little bit, but she wasn’t making a whole bunch of noise.”

Sargent Paul Hatch told David Paul that it wasn’t the accidental drop that injured the baby, but likely the shaking that created the subdural hematoma and cerebral edema, or the blood on the brain and swelling of the brain.

Now retired, Hatch was cross-examined by Paul’s defense for nearly two hours on Wednesday. He admitted on the stand that some of the assertions made during Paul’s interrogation may not have been based on fact.

“Can you help us with anything that would lead one to believe that what you said to Mr. Paul about what Jaki (Orr, mother of the baby) believed was anything but false?” asked Hedland.

“It may have been a ruse,” answered Hatch.

Hedland questioned Hatch at length about his body language, false choice questions, various suggestions, and other techniques meant to elicit a response from Paul, such as an admission that he hurt the baby.

“A ruse is synonym for a trick, right?” asked Hedland. “Yes,” answered Hatch. “I’m not going to tell you it was lie. It might have been a ruse. It might have been a fact. I don’t remember.”

The last interview heard by jurors on Wednesday was conducted eleven months earlier on the day that Rian Orr was brought into Bartlett Regional Hospital. In talking to Detective Kim Horn for about half-an-hour, Paul said he didn’t know how the baby was injured. He denied dropping the baby or abusing her.

“What do you think happened to her?” asked Horn.

“Don’t know,” answered Paul. “She was just fine and everything until I set her on the floor to change her. She was a little fussy like she was always is when she first wakes up and a little fussy like always when I was making her a bottle. When I set her on the floor is when she started crying and started getting upset.”

After the jury had gone home for the day, both the prosecution and defense argued the mistrial motion and what they thought they remembered from Judge Pallenberg’s earlier instructions.

They also lamented the upset schedule with the witness stand double-booked for Friday and Tuesday, and the defense essentially prevented from scheduling any testimony until the prosecution finishes with its line-up of witnesses.

Original story:

The defense in the David Paul homicide case called for a mistrial on Wednesday. That was a motion that was eventually denied by the judge presiding over the trial in Juneau Superior Court.

Paul’s attorney Eric Hedland alleged that former Juneau Police Sargent Paul Hatch offered too much testimony about a previous conviction for minor consuming alcohol. That originated with the then-18-year old Paul providing a false name to officers who were responding to a noise complaint. The encounter happened four years before Paul was arrested for the death of four-month old Rian Orr.

Paul is charged with murder and manslaughter in connection with the baby’s death.

On Wednesday, jurors heard two interviews with Paul that were recorded by investigators. The first interview occurred eleven months after the baby died while Paul was in police custody. He admitted shaking the baby once to get her to stop crying after he dropped her accidentally.

The last interview heard by jurors on Wednesday was conducted on the day that Rian Orr was brought into Bartlett Regional Hospital. Paul denied dropping the baby or abusing her.