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June 15, 2013

Juror dismissed in double-murder trial

Defense pushes on with its case against man accused of murdering children

JEFFERSONVILLE — The dismissal of juror No. 10 in the Jeffrey Weisheit murder trial in Clark County Circuit Court No. 1 caused a miring in proceedings Thursday and Friday.

Weisheit’s court-appointed attorney Michael McDaniel, of New Albany, said the juror was dismissed by presiding Judge Daniel Moore on Thursday, after a note from the juror’s spouse was found attached to a container of baked goods.

After an abbreviated trail day from 9 a.m. to about 11 a.m. Friday, McDaniel said the note read, “Thank you for looking after the family of Caleb [Lynch] and Alyssa [Lynch].”

He said the note was inappropriate, as the jury is to have zero communication concerning the trial with people not involved with the proceedings until a verdict is reached.

“So, we have an incident that we know [where] an improper communication came into the jury, no question about that. The question is, ‘What is that impact on the jurors?” McDaniel said. “It is hard to calculate what that impact is.”

Following the dismissal of the juror, McDaniel filed a motion for mistrial, which Moore decided Friday to deny and the case will continue.

“It will be something, if necessary, that will be resolved by the Indiana Supreme Court or the Courts of Appeals,” McDaniel said. “We have made our record on it.”

Weisheit, 37, has been charged in Vanderburgh County with two counts A felony murder and one count A felony arson. He is accused of setting fire to his Evansville home in 2010 while his then-girlfriend’s children, 5-year-old Caleb Lynch and 8-year-old Alyssa Lynch, were inside. Vanderburgh prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. The case received so much media attention in Vanderburgh County, the trial was transferred to Clark County so an untainted jury could be compiled.

Another extraordinary occurrence during Friday’s trial was Weisheit appearing in the courtroom on crutches and being ushered to and from trial in a wheelchair by a bailiff.

McDaniel said his client had slipped in the shower late Thursday night and cut his foot on a handicap bracket, resulting in him receiving six stitches and using crutches and a wheelchair while being escorted between the jail and the courtroom.

The only person to take the witness stand Friday was Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office Detective Kerri Blessinger, a lead investigator in the case. She is only the second person the defense has called since opening its argument Thursday afternoon.

McDaniel said he called the detective to testify to show jurors that while Weisheit may have had suspicions that Lisa Lynch, the children’s mother, was involved with another man in 2010, those suspicions were not a motive for his client to burn down his home and kill the children.

“The two of them were not battling it out,” McDaniel said of Weisheit and Lisa Lynch’s relationship at the time of fatal fire.

Blessinger testified that she believed Weisheit to have a positive relationship with the children, but also said that she had ruled out every other suspect other than Weisheit during the investigation.

McDaniel declined to comment if Weisheit will take the witness stand in defense of himself.

Vanderburgh County Deputy Prosecutors Charles Berger and Gary Schutte rested their case about 3 p.m. Thursday, after five days of presentation.

Schutte said Friday that he was happy with the prosecution’s argument and thought that everything came out well, even though the cause of the fire was not provided by any of their witnesses.

While McDaniel has said the jury can not find Weisheit guilty of murder if they do not find he committed the arson, Schutte said a state fire marshal testified that it is not abnormal for officials to not find the cause of a blaze when a structure is virtually burned to the ground, as Weisheit’s home was.

“This is a case we are asking the jury to consider all of the evidence,” Schutte said. “That is an aspect of it. We feel very good about how the case went.”

The trial is scheduled to continue with the defense’s presentation Monday morning.

McDaniel said he expects to call at least eight additional witness to testify and anticipates to rest his presentation Tuesday.

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