The first-degree sexual assault of a child trial was nearing its end. Jurors had been questioned and selected. All four witnesses -- three for the prosecution and defendant Keith Beauchamp -- had testified, according to court records.
And then Juror 508 said she had just a few questions.
She wrote them down and handed them to the bailiff. They were these:
“Why are we having this trial?"
"Who is charging?"
"Is someone suing for money?”
The case wrapped up and the jury, including Juror 508, found Beauchamp guilty. Eau Claire County Circuit Judge Lisa Stark -- now a District 3 Appeals Court judge -- sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Years later, in a postconviction motion, Beauchamp argued that Juror 508's questions showed her "inability to hear, inattentiveness, confusion, or lack of comprehension" was so significant that a mistrial was warranted. His lawyer was ineffective because he did not seek one, Beauchamp said.
Circuit Judge Kristina M. Bourget, who handled the issue, dismissed the motion without a hearing. No mistrial was warranted, Bourget said, because the contention that Juror 508 did not understand the case was "speculation" and there was insufficient evidence the juror was inattentive or did not hear what was going on.
Beauchamp appealed, but a panel for District 3 of the Court of Appeals -- where Starks is deputy chief judge -- agreed with Bourget.
There was evidence of confusion about the "nature of the proceedings and the procedural status of the case" but the questions posed by Juror 508 at the end of the trial -- including "“Why are we having this trial?" -- "do not suggest an inability to comprehend material testimony," the panel said in a ruling released earlier this month. The panel included Appeals Judges Mark A. Seidl, Thomas Hruz, and Patricia Curley, a District 1 Court of Appeals judge assigned to the case.
(Bourget, a Scott Walker appointee in 2013, was elected to her seat in 2014 and unsuccessfully challenged Seidl for the Appeals Court seat last year.)
Besides, the panel said, the judge gave jury instructions to clear up any questions.
From left: Curley, Hruz, Seidl: Not knowing at the end of the trial why it was held or who was bringing charges did not show non-understanding of "material" testimony.
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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