The third trial of an 85-year-old man accused of killing Cariad Anderson-Slater has been aborted today after a juror ignored a judge’s warning not to investigate the circumstances surrounding the case.
Supreme Court Justice Michael Corboy said he was “almost speechless with rage” but had no option but to discharge the jury after one juror said he knew the reason for two previous trials falling over and another juror’s girlfriend researched the history of the case and shared the information with her boyfriend before he also passed on the background to other members of the panel.
Until this afternoon when a suppression order was lifted, Justice Corboy had banned the evidence presented at Ronald Pennington’s previous trials and any reasons for his re-trial.
Mr Pennington was initially convicted in 2012 of manslaughter over the death of Ms Anderson-Slater in July 1992. But his conviction was quashed after he won an appeal and he was ordered to face a retrial.
After a two-week retrial in November last year, a jury failed to reach a verdict.
Today, Justice Corboy said he understood the “extraordinary costs” involved in Mr Pennington’s trial, but it was in the interests of justice that the jury was discharged.
“Once the jury know that there’s been a finding of guilt on a past occasion followed by the overturning of that verdict on appeal, the risk of speculation is just too great,” Justice Corboy said.
“We have at least four jurors who know.
“I’m extremely reluctant in these circumstances to discharge the jury but I feel I have no option. It is most regrettable.
“It is regrettable to everybody. It is regrettable to the State, it is regrettable to Mr Pennington, who’s 85years of age, (a family member) at the back of the court is visibly upset; understandably so.
“Everybody, the State, Mr Pennington, Ms Anderson-Slater’s family, are entitled to a verdict in this matter one way or the other and I can’t begin to express how angry I am as to what has occurred.
“But no matter how desirable that is, ultimately, in my view, it is in the interests of justice that the jury be discharged.”