After 11 days of deliberations whose length rivaled other high-profile murder cases, a Fresno County jury announced Tuesday it was “hung on all counts” in the four-month trial of two men accused of killing a Fresno convenience store clerk and beating another clerk with a pipe during an attempted robbery four years ago.
The jury of five men and seven women voted 7-5 to find Christopher Roberts, 25, not guilty of murder, assault with a deadly weapon and attempted robbery. Jurors voted 9-3 to find Dwayne Dodson, 39, guilty of the charges.
Because the jury’s vote was not unanimous, Superior Court Judge Denise L. Whitehead declared a mistrial, giving prosecutors another shot at trying Roberts and Dodson. The new trial date is Sept. 12.
Roberts and Dodson are accused of murdering Kashmir Singh Manes, 45, at the Super 1 convenience store at Tulare and Seventh streets on Aug. 23, 2012. They also are accused of beating clerk Kulvinder Singh with a pipe. If convicted, they would face life in prison.
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Roberts and Dodson, who have been in the Fresno County Jail nearly four years, showed little reaction to the mistrial.
After the mistrial was announced, attorney Margarita Martinez-Baly, who represents Roberts, and attorney Ralph Torres, who represents Dodson, said jurors told them them that there were serious problems with the prosecution’s case.
A store video surveillance camera captured the killing and bloody crime scene. But the robbers in the video concealed their faces.
During the trial, Roberts and Dodson sat shackled at the defense table. During deliberations, jurors asked to see the two defendants standing, so they could compare their heights to the robbers on the video.
“The jurors told us the video was inconclusive,” Martinez-Baly said Tuesday.
Jurors also thought the prosecution’s cellphone evidence was inconclusive. During the trial, prosecutor Sam Dalesandro told the jury that records from the two defendants’ cellphones put them in the area when the killing happened. “But the jury thought it was too generalized,” Martinez-Baly said.
Singh was beaten so badly that he needed 22 stitches on his head, Martinez-Baly. She said jurors thought it was odd that there was no blood on Roberts’ clothing or in his car when he was pulled over about 30 minutes after the killing. Dodson was arrested about a week later, Torres said.
In addition, Martinez-Baly said jurors voiced concerns about police showing a photograph of Roberts to the surviving victim before he was interviewed by detectives. Jurors also were concerned about police pressuring a young witness into identifying the getaway car, she said.
Initially, the juvenile witness told police it was a dark or black sedan that looked like an “old cop car.” Fresno dispatch then reported over the police radio to be on the lookout for an older model Ford Crown Victoria. When Roberts was pulled over, he was driving a light blue 1992 Mercury Grand Marquis.
“The jurors felt the prosecution witnesses were not credible because they were tainted by law enforcement,” Martinez-Baly said.
Dalesandro declined to comment on the allegations. He said he is ready to retry the case in September.
The trial began in late March with several weeks of pretrial motions. Testimony began in early May and wrapped up around June 30. Over the next three weeks, the jury deliberated at least 50 hours over 11 days, rivaling the deliberations in other high-profile case such as the murder trials of Marcus Wesson and Dana Ewell.
In June 2005, a Fresno County jury deliberated 50 hours over 10 days to find Wesson guilty of ordering the slayings of nine of his children. The jury later ruled that Wesson should be executed for the March 12, 2004, mass killings in Fresno. He remains on death row.
In May 1998, a Fresno County jury deliberated nearly 10 days before finding Ewell and triggerman Joel Radovcich guilty of first-degree murder in the execution-style slayings of Ewell’s father, Dale Ewell, mother, Glee Ewell, and sister, Tiffany Ewell. Dana Ewell and Radovcich were later sentenced to life in prison for the Easter Sunday 1992 murders.
In presenting the prosecution’s case, Dalesandro told the jury: “This is not a whodunit.” The prosecutor identified Dodson as the gunman who shot Manes. He said the evidence proved Roberts beat Singh with a pipe.
Martinez-Baly and Torres, however, contended that the Fresno Police Department racially profiled the defendants and intimidated witnesses favorable to the defense.
Dodson and Roberts did not testify in the trial.
The video shows two robbers with gloves entering the store shortly before 11 p.m. One of them wore a baseball cap, a dark stocking cap and goggles and waved a handgun near the counter while the second man, with a white T-shirt over his head, moved in and out of the video frames. Dalesandro pointed out to the jury that Manes was shot the moment the video shows the gunman holding the handgun with two hands.
After Manes was shot once, the video shows the robbers bumping into each other as they leave the store without taking any loot. The video then shows Manes lying mortally wounded on the floor behind the cash register while a bloody Singh calls 911.
Dalesandro told the jury that two hours earlier, Roberts had entered the Super 1 store in order to “case” it. A store video shows Roberts was not wearing a mask, but he was wearing black and white tennis shoes. Dalesandro said the robber who beat Singh with a pipe wore black and white tennis shoes.
In addition, the video shows the man who beat Singh wearing sagging pants, so his underwear could be seen. When Roberts was pulled over by police 30 minutes after the shooting, his underwear matched those of the man who beat Singh, Dalesandro said.
But Martinez-Baly said many people wear black and white tennis shoes. “Just look around the courthouse,” she told the jury. She also said Roberts went into the store earlier that night, not to “case it,” but to pay for gasoline. She also said Roberts’ underwear, which she showed to the jury, was a different color than that of the underwear shown in the video.
After the killing, Dalesandro told the jury that he believed Roberts dropped off Dodson and ditched his clothing. He said police found two gloves in Roberts’ car that were used in the murder. Dodson was arrested about a week after the murder when his fingerprint was discovered on Roberts’ car.
But Torres said the fingerprint means little because Dodson and Roberts are friends. In addition, the gloves recovered by police were not tested for gunshot residue and the gloves did not have the victim’s DNA, he said.
Highway 41 is near the crime scene and an easy getaway for any robber, Torres told the jury. Yet, Roberts was pulled over near the Fresno Police Department in downtown Fresno, he said.