Mistrial: Words Matter, Inadmissible Evidence Almost Derails Young Trial
SAN ANGELO, TX — Defense attorneys for John Young began punishment testimony Tuesday morning with an objection and motion for a mistrial that almost derailed the three plus week trial. A mistrial would end the trial, and force the State to start a new trial.
John Young’s defense attorney objected to the last witness from Monday. Mike Rocat, a former police officer from Lubbock, testified about John Young being convicted of a misdemeanor DWI during a 1990 fatal car pedestrian crash in Lubbock. According to the banned testimony, Young was driving his Mercedes in Lubbock in 1990 when a woman ran out in front of him. His vehicle struck her resulting in her death.
Defense attorney Dan Hurley told Judge Brock Jones that a section of state law bans that testimony and evidence because it occurred before 1996. Here’s the law Hurley cited:
“Art. 37.07. VERDICT MUST BE GENERAL; SEPARATE HEARING ON PROPER PUNISHMENT.3(i) Evidence of an adjudication for conduct that is a violation of a penal law of the grade of misdemeanor punishable by confinement in jail is admissible only if the conduct upon which the adjudication is based occurred on or after January 1, 1996.”
Hurley and Frank Sellers made a motion for a mistrial because the jury already heard the testimony and had access to the evidence. Judge Jones recessed the proceeding so he and the prosecuting attorneys could read and review the law. Jones told attorneys, “I need to read it."
While the judge and jury were out of the courtroom, the tense silence was only broken by the muffled voices of jurors sequestered in the adjoining room and the occasional beeping of the metal detector as citizens entered the courthouse next to courtroom D next to the entry doors of the courthouse.
John Young left the courtroom during the recess to check on his wife Tracy. His attorneys also left the courtroom to conduct work on the trial.
After about 15 minutes, Judge Jones returned to the courtroom. He sustained Hurley’s motion that the evidence about the DWI in 1990 was inadmissible. After several seconds of silence and after hearing from prosecutors, Jones granted Hurley’s motion that all that evidence would be stricken from the record and the jury would be instructed to disregard that evidence.
Defense attorney Sellers again moved for a mistrial because the jury had already heard the evidence. There was a tenseness that followed as Jones considered what decision to make.
Hurley motioned again for a mistrial saying there “was already a skunk in the jury, and you just can’t get rid of the smell.” He told judge Jones that any instruction to disregard the evidence would only mislead and confuse the jury and the problem is so severe that a mistrial is necessary. Judge Jones denied that motion.
The trial testimony began in front of the jury at 9:45 a.m. Prosecutors called Michael Deadman back to the witness stand. Deadman is the court appointed administrator of John Sullivan’s estate. He testified that Young paid back to the estate $90,000 which was used to purchase a property in Abilene. Testimony showed the $90,000 came from a loan against Young’s wife’s Certificates of Deposit.
Defense attorneys presented evidence that Young transferred their home into his wife’s name in September 2017. The Sweetwater home is just under 5,000 sq. ft. and is on the tax appraisal rolls for $618,710.
Deadman was excused from the witness stand at 10:23 a.m. and the State rested its case.
After the state rested, defense attorney Frank Sellers approached the bench and told judge Jones that they had received information that a member of the jury had experienced an issue recently that prejudiced that juror against Young and his defense. That juror, he said, was making faces against the defense and Young. Sellers told the judge that the problem was so severe that he had to move for a mistrial.
Judge Jones denied the motion.
The defense began its case by calling San Angelo attorney Rick Dehoyos to the stand. Dehoyos told the jury he met John Sullivan while working as an assistant city attorney for the city of San Angelo. Dehoyos was subpoenaed by the defense and didn’t want to be a part of this trial. He said while was working for the City, he was given a case where a person was filing deeds as ‘John the Baptist.’ He said he came to know that person as John Sullivan.
Dehoyos testified that Sullivan contacted him 4 or 5 times asking him to set up a trust fund for homeless children. Dehoyos told Sullivan that he didn’t do that kind of work.
Dehoyos told jurors he was very surprised to hear that Sullivan named him as custodian of his estate in a will presented to the court by Greg Estes, especially since Estes was Dehoyos neighbor and had never mentioned the will to him. Estes last week presented the court with photographs of John Sullivan signing a handwritten holographic will in 2013 prior to a medical procedure.
Dehoyos told prosecutors he learned about the case after the guilty verdict by reading San Angelo LIVE!
Dehoyos told the jury under cross examination by the State that, “Sullivan left me as custodian because I made the mistake of talking to him.”
Defense attorneys then called John Young’s brother James to the witness stand. James’ voice cracked and he cried as he testified about his career and helping his brother through his alcoholism and about becoming an alcoholic himself. A lot of tears were shed during James Young’s testimony.
James advised his brother John about what to do with the Sullivan estate money. He told his brother to, “ Pay off everything you own, pay for your kid’s education, and give away all you can.”
The judge then broke for lunch. After lunch, Hurley called Young’s wife Tracy to the witness stand. While she testified about their marriage and employment and children, John Young cried. Tracy cried and family and friends in the courtroom cried,
Tracy Young testified that her daughter Lauren was anorexic after the last year and John was helping her work through that disease.
Young’s wife then testified that they were preparing to sell their home and downsize in order to pay restitution.
The defense then called character witnesses Judy Brentz, a teacher from Sweetwater, Bob Deb, an attorney from Lubbock, and then recalled San Angelo attorney Tip Hargrove. Hargrove told jurors that he and John Young worked on a capital murder case together and John was the lead attorney. He told jurors John talked the client out of an unwise direction of defense and virtually saved the man’s life.
Hargrove was excused at 2:52 p.m. and defense attorneys called Ken Leggett, an attorney from Abilene. Leggett testified that Young represented his son in a drug case and that Young was one of the best trial lawyers in this part of the state.
The defense then called Wes Stafford of Sweetwater. Stafford testified that John Young was a good Christian who he knew very well. Stafford was excused at 3:10 p.m.
Next up was Adel Jimenez. Jimenez worked for Young in Sweetwater. She testified that Young helped her out because she was a single mom. Jimenez also testified that he had a bad feeling about Debra Heine when she went to work for Young. She said Heine was going through a divorce and seemed to be looking for a new, rich husband.
Jimenez ended her testimony at 3:19 p.m. and the trial broke for 15 minutes.
When the trial resumed, John Young’s son took the stand at 3:47 p.m. Spencer Young is a tall slender young man who is in his second year of Law school at Texas Tech in Lubbock.
His voice cracked and he cried as he testified that his father was the reason he was attending law school and the reason he wanted to be an attorney, He told jurors through his tears that all his young life he wanted his attorney father to ‘hood’ him when he graduated from law school. He choked back tears as he testified that his dad couldn’t do that now that he is a convicted felon and no longer a lawyer.
Spencer Young cried. John Young cried. Many tears were shed in court Tuesday. Spencer told jurors, “He’s the reason I’m proud of my last name.”
Spencer was emotional as he testified and then his sister Lauren walked into the courtroom. She was crying, Spencer was crying, the other family members in the courtroom were crying.
Spencer Young was excused from the witness stand at 4:02 p.m.
Testimony resumes Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m. in the Tom Green County courthouse. The jury is expected to deliberate punishment as soon as testimony concludes.