ATHENS, Alabama (WHNT) — The capital murder trial of Elkmont teenager Mason Sisk ended abruptly in a mistrial Monday morning. His defense team hadn’t called a single witness before Limestone County Circuit Judge Chad Wise made the seemingly ‘sudden’ ruling.
News 19 breaks down what exactly that means for the future of the case and whether the judge had any other options.
As previously reported, this happened because the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) only recently hacked into a victim’s cell phone and the parties needed time to review all the evidence.
In light of the defense’s receipt of Mary Sisk’s mobile phone data records over the weekend, Judge Wise ruled that the proceedings could not move forward.
Former U.S. Attorney Jay Town said a mistrial was the best option.
“It was really the only decision the judge could make and also disappointing for everyone involved. [including] the victim’s family members,” Town explained. “Brian Jones, the district attorney, who is an excellent prosecutor, replied ‘Give credit to the FBI, they could have just moved on to other devices [since it is] very hard to break in Apple devices especially.
Before declaring a mistrial, Judge Wise considered a short break in the trial to allow the parties to consider the evidence.
“Maybe the judge could have delayed it four or five days and given them time to get through it,” Town said. “But then jurors start losing their memories and can only rely on their notes for the ultimate conclusion of the case, and you don’t want that either.”
“That’s why the mistrial was really…it’s not a popular option,” Town said. “Certainly not the first option everyone was hoping for here, but it was probably the right decision.”
The city says a mistrial is no cause for celebration by the defense. It’s like pressing a reset button.
Judge Wise has already decided when to press play, Sisk’s new trial date is set for February 13, 2023. A whole new jury is required.
News 19 asked Town if public knowledge of the previous trial, including news that Mason Sisk confessed, would make it more difficult to select a new jury.
“Remember, we’re not just looking for 12 jurors who know nothing about the case and have never heard of this defendant or the five people who were murdered,” Town continued. “You just need to have 12 people who will rely on the evidence presented in the courtroom and reject everything they’ve ever had outside of the courtroom.”
The city says a mistrial could actually strengthen the prosecution’s case because the judges’ decision removes the phone issue as a ground for appeal.
The former prosecutor said the Limestone County prosecutor’s office should want to try a case that can stand up to scrutiny.
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