Erika Sandoval’s murder trial against Exeter police officer Daniel Green ends in a mistrial, Tulare County District Attorney prepares to retry the case next year
VISALIA – Despite years of evidence gathering, two months of tedious litigation and a week’s worth of deliberation, the jury in Erika Sandoval’s murder trial could not reach a verdict.
The Tulare County District Attorney’s office announced last week that the jury was hung, 11-1. District attorney Tim Ward said that he was disappointed in the outcome but respected judge Joseph Kalashian’s decision to declare a mistrial. Ward’s office said they would be retrying the case almost as soon as the mistrial was declared.
“Our office has been in contact with [Daniel Green’s] family and they commended our staff for their work,” Ward said. “We will continue to stand with them to see that justice is done. We are going to look ahead instead of looking back.”
“I think everyone wanted the case to be final and we all wanted a verdict so here would be some sort of finality,” Chambers said.
As of last week, Chambers said that he intended to stay on the case, if Sandoval does not seek a different attorney. Chambers has been representing the case since she was first arraigned on Feb. 10, 2015. Since then he has invested thousands of hours.
While he was disappointed in the lack of a verdict, Chambers said that he respects the juror’s opinion. He added that because one juror did not agree with the other 11 jurors does not mean that they had an agenda walking in to deliberation.
“I think people are very emotional and have an opinion of how things turned out is very emotional. But they weren’t in the jury room… the prosecution has a very high burden of proof and they feel that the prosecution didn’t meet that,” Chambers said.
However, according to Ward and a profile on 48 Hours that premiered Saturday, Dec. 7, jurors got into a heated confrontation during deliberations. At one point the foreperson of the jury relayed a note to Kalashian about a verbal altercation between jurors. Prosecutor David Alavezos requested to poll the jurors to make sure everyone was cooperating and, not holding up deliberations through intransigence.
Ward said that it is a very rare process to go through, and that he respects Kalashian’s decision denying the request.
Strongest piece of evidence
Chambers said that the strongest piece of evidence were pornographic photos of “young looking” girls that Sandoval claims to have found just before she shot and killed Green. That revelation came to light when Chambers put Sandoval on the stand in late October.
Sandoval indicated that because of the photographs her actions were impulsive on Feb. 6, 2015, when she admittedly shot and killed Green. Sandoval said she found them in an open safe when she was in Green’s home searching for medication she suspected Green was giving their son, Aiden.
During cross examination where Chambers questioned Sandoval about an open safe in Green’s bedroom, she said the entire room was cluttered. In addition to other items in the room, she also found a stack of papers regarding the house and his truck in the safe. She said in her experience the safe was customarily open. But among the papers and other items she claims she found two pictures printed on computer paper of young girls in pornographic positions who were 12 to 15 years old.
“I thought, you know, I mean, like, is he watching this kind of stuff around my son? Is he doing anything to my son? I did think about my son,” Sandoval said.
Sandoval claims that is when Green arrived back to the house in his truck. At that point she said that she was in shock and unsure what to do. She went into Aiden’s room and hid in the closet. In response to questions from Alavezos, Sandoval said she sat with the duffel bag she brought with her to the home that had two guns from the house inside of it. Sandoval said that she was scared Green might find her in there but that she was also angry.
“I was just, my mind was really angry. I was just, like, impulsive, I guess, in thinking about everything, just, I was scared, you know what I mean? A lot of stuff was going through my mind,” Sandoval said.
She went on to say that she heard the blender as Green went on to make a drink. Sandoval said she heard Green walk down the hall and was scared that she could have been seen in the closet and noted that she was thinking about the safety of Aiden and how he was being treated when he was with Green.
“I knew he’d take showers with Aiden. I didn’t know if he was doing stuff to Aiden, maybe, or just thinking about, like, the stuff that he had done with me, and what he was thinking when he was doing that stuff with me, what his mind thought,” Sandoval said.
Sandoval admittedly hit her “boiling point” and “snapped.” She testified that she had stepped out of the closet and into the hallway with the gun that she got from the bag and approached the bathroom where Green was.
“I stepped out of Aiden’s room. I stood right there in front of Daniel when he was on the toilet… As soon as he saw me, he said, ‘I’m going to [expletive] kill you,’ And he started getting up as soon as I started raising my arm, and I shot,” Sandoval said.
The photos Sandoval claims were the impetus for “snapping” were never entered into evidence. Chambers said he doesn’t know why.
“They were left there but they weren’t there when the crime scene was done. So what happened there I have no idea,” Chambers said.
Ward said that Chamber’s defense was an attempt to discredit Green’s memory.
“We were trying Erika Sandoval for murder but it seems the trial took a turn and tried to murder the memory of Mr. Green,” Ward said.
Ward’s comments, which came after the mistrial announced last week, referred to Chamber’s shift in strategy midway through the trial. Chambers, opened the case describing Sandoval as a battered woman who had had enough, despite the fact that both Sandoval and Green were arrested for domestic violence during their relationship. Both were arrested in 2011 for domestic violence but the DA did not file charges because “neither of the charges can be sustained.”
Ward said, when the argument didn’t seem to be resonating with jurors, Chambers changed tact and shocked the court by putting Sandoval herself on the stand where she claimed the photos were destroyed by investigators in a conspiracy by law enforcement. She was unable to explain why she did not bring up the photos during interviews with investigators shortly after her arrest or why she did not take the photos when she found them and turn them in as evidence of a crime.
When Alavezos had the opportunity to question Sandoval in October he pointed out what had been entered into evidence. He pointed to a photograph Green had posted on social media of him and a new girl he had been dating seven days before he was killed and 129 phone calls she made to Green over three days compared to the 60 phone calls she made over four months prior.
“So in four months you called maybe around 60 times, and in three days, after seeing a picture, you call 120-some times?… It wasn’t because of the picture,” Alavezos asked.
Ward said his office will begin the process for a retrial sometime next month. The case will remain the same, based on the same evidence and the same charges and penalties, including the DA’s office continuing to seek the death penalty. Ward said he expects the path to retrial to be much faster than the five years it took the case to reach the initial trial phase. He added that the prosecution will argue the same theory in the next trial as they did before. The biggest difference will be when they address the photographs Sandoval claims to have found.
Aside from indicating that law enforcement may have suppressed the photos during their initial search, Chambers said that the amount of legal pornography found on Green’s computer would indicate that he would have had the child porn printouts. Ward said that the difference between legal porn and child porn is stark, and the indication that law enforcement suppressed evidence is a farce.
“Those photos never existed in the first place to corroborate that at all,” Ward said. “If they were going to suppress evidence, why would they stop there… They sure turned over a lot of other evidence that was pretty damning.”
Family and friends
The 11-1 hung jury perhaps hit Green’s the hardest. At the Exeter Police Department, officers were deeply disappointed that the case was not concluded with a guilty verdict. Many of which had even testified through various portions of the trial.
“It is fair to say that there was a mixture of shock and disappointment that that was the end result. We followed the trial closely and are obviously aware of the circumstances in the case. We felt that the DA’s office did a great job of stating the facts of the case,” Exeter chief of police John Hall said.
Hall has a special memory of Green and his identical twin brother Matt from when he was with the Porterville Police Department. Green and his brother were explorers in Porterville with dreams of becoming police officers. While he never worked with Green as a full fledged officer, his death was still felt writ large.
“When that happened the repercussions of it was felt at law enforcement community throughout the county,” Hall said.
Since Hall arrived in Exeter two years ago, the case has been on every officer’s mind since February 2015. Memories were brought up on the anniversary of his death every year since.
“Every now and again someone will tell a story and his name will come up, like many other individuals will. It’s certainly something that has come up on a regular basis,” Hall said.
Sandoval will continue to be incarcerated until the retrial begins sometime next year. Ward said that he does not feel the need for a change of venue in light of the hung jury notoriety.
“I have full faith in the process and continued faith in Tulare County jurors that anyone in Tulare County can have a fair trial,” Ward said.