Attorneys, families wait for verdict in Gibbs trial
The Forum MINOT -- Family, friends and attorneys on both sides of the Moe Maurice Gibbs murder trial will return to the courthouse today and continue their wait for a verdict after one was not reached Tuesday. The jury of seven women and five men...
MINOT -- Family, friends and attorneys on both sides of the Moe Maurice Gibbs murder trial will return to the courthouse today and continue their wait for a verdict after one was not reached Tuesday.
The jury of seven women and five men mulled over the case for a little over an hour Monday afternoon and all day Tuesday, going back into the courtroom in the morning to watch a video of Gibbs being interviewed by investigators that was originally played last week.
The roughly 90-minute portion of the video depicts the former Barnes County jailer repeatedly denying any involvement in Valley City State University student Mindy Morgenstern's Sept. 13, 2006, death. He also makes inconsistent statements from other testimony and tells investigators he "could care less about DNA," despite their finding of his on Morgenstern.
Attorneys in the case battled over what that DNA meant -- whether it was coincidental or the result of a struggle with Morgenstern -- and must now wait to see which side the jury believed.
While attorneys in the trial must abide by a judicial gag order, several experienced attorneys Tuesday described that waiting period as a time of second-guessing and agony.
Adam Hamm said he remembers everything about the four hours he spent waiting for a jury to return the guilty verdict in the Kyle Bell case. Bell killed Fargo's Jeanna North in 1993.
The former assistant Cass County state's attorney said the minutes just crawled by as a nerve-racking feeling overwhelmed him, the pit of his stomach churned and the wait began.
"There's going to be justice or there isn't, and it's out of your hands," Hamm said.
Robert Hoy, one of Alfonso Rodriguez Jr.'s defense attorneys for the death of Dru Sjodin, said "waiting for the jury to come back is probably the toughest part of the case."
"It is a time where you usually think of a slightly better argument that you could have made or a turn of phrase," he said. "The more serious the case, sometimes the harder it is."
Steve Mottinger, who defended Bell during the 1999 trial, said he used to second-guess himself, "but as the years go by I kind of quit doing that."
"You can't beat yourself up, what's done is done, you don't get a second chance," he said.
Assistant Cass County State's Attorney Mark Boening, who has tried multiple murder cases, said he often wonders about "what questions the jury has that you didn't answer."
"You wonder what's taking them so long because it's so obvious to you that they should have reached a conclusion based on your argument already," he said.
Boening said the hardest part is knowing that despite standing up and telling the jury what you believe to be the truth, sometimes the verdict doesn't go your way.
"It's an insult; it's a slap in the face," he said, adding that he tries to cheer himself up afterward by reminding himself he has just avoided the appeals process.
Mottinger said he does not believe the time a jury deliberates necessarily indicates the trial's outcome, saying even with complicated cases a jury can return a fast verdict.
"If you get to the end of the day, sometimes I think it kind of forces a decision at that point," Mottinger said. "Anytime you start a new day I think it indicates a jury is struggling with something."
Boening said he believes the jury takes its responsibility seriously, saying, "Particularly in a homicide case where the stakes are higher, and the jury knows that, they're going to be more careful."
Hamm said his stomach goes in circles the minute he is told a verdict has been reached, comparing the feeling to butterflies before playing in a football game.
"The instant I heard the word 'guilty,' the only word I can describe is relief -- complete and total relief -- because everything is riding on that word," he said of the Bell verdict.
Boening said he gets an adrenaline rush as the clerk begins to read the verdict.
Mottinger said the anticipation surges in his stomach when the verdict is read, saying that feeling is almost a requirement for lawyers.
"I think when you don't get that anymore it's probably time to quit," he said.
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