Jurors deadlocked Thursday in the murder trial of a teenager accused of stabbing a radio newsman he met through a Craigslist ad offering sex for money.
It was the third day of deliberations at the trial of John Katehis, 18, who could have faced 25 years to life in prison if convicted of killing George Weber, a freelancer for ABC News Radio.
The 47-year-old Weber had also worked at WABC in New York and at stations in California, Colorado and Pennsylvania.
Police discovered his body in March 2009 on the bedroom floor of his Brooklyn apartment after the station he'd been freelancing for called them. He'd been stabbed about 50 times, and his pants and underwear were at his ankles, which were bound with duct tape, according to investigators and an autopsy. His blood-alcohol level was 0.12 percent, toxicology reports showed.
State Supreme Court Justice Neil Jon Firetog declared a mistrial after he received his second note in two days from jurors saying they were deadlocked.
The prosecution and defense agreed with Firetog's decision, and Katehis' lawyer, Jeffrey Schwartz, asked the judge about granting his client bail. Firetog said he wanted to find out the split among jurors, who were in the jury room, before deciding on bail.
After returning to the courtroom after several minutes, Firetog said jurors had told him they might be able to reach a verdict if given "a few more hours," and that he planned to give them the additional time.
Schwarz said the judge's decision to continue deliberations was "coercive" and the two argued for several minutes until a court officer handed the judge another note from jurors saying they were deadlocked.
The jury split was initially 9-3 for conviction, then 10-2, and finally 11-1, juror Darryl Turner said after the mistrial. The lone dissenter "wasn't budging," he said.
The defense had argued that Weber preyed on an underage boy desperate for money. Katehis wasn't legally old enough to consent to sex with an adult. The age of consent in New York is 17.
Jurors initially took issue with the age difference between Katehis and Weber but then moved past it, Turner said.
Firetog said the mistrial would stand and scheduled Katehis' next court date for Nov. 3. Katehis remains in custody.
"We're obviously disappointed, but we're ready to try it again," prosecutor Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi said afterward.
During the trial, which began Oct. 18, Nicolazzi described Katehis as a "mature" and "cold, calculating, savvy killer" who at 16 placed an advertisement on Craigslist offering sex for money.
Weber, who had a fetish for being smothered to the point of nearly passing out, responded to that ad and went on a "stabbing frenzy" at the man's apartment, Nicolazzi said.
Schwartz said Weber lured Katehis to his apartment and gave the teen alcohol and what the teen believed was cocaine. The powder later tested negative for narcotic drugs, Nicolazzi said.
Weber then pressured Katehis "to do things that made him uncomfortable" in exchange for $60, Schwartz said.
Weber was stabbed as Katehis, "jumpy and paranoid" from the alcohol and powder, defended himself during a struggle over a knife Weber pulled out during the encounter, Schwartz said.
Schwartz also criticized detectives who arrested and interviewed Katehis, saying they took advantage of his youth. A detective wrote Katehis' statement because Katehis had cuts on his hand sustained during the killing, detective James Normile testified.
Katehis asked the detective to add the word "accidentally" before the word "stabbed" in the statement, Normile said. Schwartz said police had intentionally left the word out of the statement.
Nicolazzi showed jurors the Craigslist ad she said Katehis had posted and e-mails between him and Weber. The exchanges, Nicolazzi told jurors, showed Katehis' comfort with having sex with older men for money.
She also showed pictures Katehis had posted online of himself holding knives to demonstrate what she said was an "interest" in them.
Although investigators never recovered the knife used in the killing, the medical examiner testified that Weber's wounds "could be consistent" with at least one of the knives shown in the pictures. Katehis' lawyer said he didn't have a knife when he went to Weber's home because he had come from school.
In a video recorded statement taken hours after his arrest, Katehis admitted taking $60 from Weber's pocket after the killing and replacing his bloody clothes with Weber's.
Katehis' father, in collaboration with police, called his son after the killing and told him he wanted to give him $300, Normile testified. Police arrested him at the meeting.
Columbia Law School professor James Liebman said the U.S. Constitution "constrains" judges from pressuring juries to keep deliberating after they've repeatedly said they're deadlocked.
"What seems unusual here is that normally that doesn't happen where a judge is having a separate conversation with jurors outside of open court," Liebman said. "Normally the judge will bring in the jury or jury foreperson and both persons' counsel and inquire with a court reporter recording everything."