The capital murder trial of the man accused of killing Austin music teacher Kathy Blair ended in a mistrial after a lone juror refused to find the defendant guilty after more than 19 hours of deliberation.
A disagreement that began Wednesday intensified Thursday morning with the dissenting juror becoming “very confrontational,” the jury forewoman said in open court. The juror, a young woman, had also began taking 15-minute smoke breaks every hour, the forewoman said.
Around 6:30 p.m., state District Judge David Crain summoned the jurors into the courtroom for a second time to see if they felt they could eventually reach a consensus. All of them — nine women and three men — said they were hopelessly deadlocked. They had deliberated for nine hours Thursday after 10 hours the day before.
Outside of court, the dissenting juror declined comment before entering an elevator to leave the courthouse.
The state’s case against defendant Shawn Gant-Benalcazar, 33, will now return to the trial docket to be tried at a later time.
“We’re very disappointed,” district attorney Margaret Moore said. “The jurors that voted guilty were very confident in their vote. We will retry this case.”
Family friend Ed Watt said the Blairs are “very frustrated, very upset because they were so close to getting a measure of justice.”
A note sent to the court Wednesday night indicated the holdout juror had doubt about whether Gant-Benalcazar had killed Blair, which the defendant had confessed to in an interview with police in January 2015. Defense lawyers moved for a mistrial at the time, but were denied.
Gant-Benalcazar took the witness stand on Tuesday and recanted his confession, saying he was under the influence of Valium and was coerced by police into making a false statement. He then blamed the murder on co-defendant Timothy Parlin, a handyman who had been at Blair’s home months before her death to dig an irrigation ditch.
Despite the conflicting statements, jurors considered several pieces of physical evidence that law enforcement said tied Gant-Benalcazar to the crime, including his blood that was found near the passenger seat of a car driven by Parlin and a shoe print found at the scene.
A video captured by a neighbor on the night of Blair’s death also showed a man exiting a car, who investigators said was Gant-Benalcazar.
Blair, a beloved music teacher, was one of three people killed in a string of burglaries in 2014.
Parlin is also charged in the deaths of Billie and Sidney Shelton, an elderly couple who were similarly robbed and killed two weeks after the Blair’s death. Court documents say Parlin’s wife had been in the Sheltons’ home several times before the killings to give massages to the couple.
Parlin is scheduled for trial next month in the deaths of Blair and the Sheltons.