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Lewis rape trial postponed after inability to seat full jury

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LOWVILLE — A Croghan man’s rape case last week was delayed beyond the one-year anniversary of his arrest after officials were unable to seat a full jury in a recent trial.

“It’s difficult on all parties involved,” said Assistant District Attorney Caleb J. Petzoldt, who is prosecuting the case.

Acting County Judge Donald E. Todd on Dec. 3 declared a mistrial in the case of Kurt J. Hazzard, 41, of 6835 Mechanic St., Croghan, “because of circumstances,” Commissioner of Jurors Ann M. Hill said.

The case has been adjourned to Jan. 11, when a new trial under Judge-elect Daniel R. King likely will be set.

Hazzard is charged with three counts of first-degree rape, two counts of third-degree rape, four counts of endangering the welfare of a child and single counts of second-degree rape and first- and third-degree criminal sex act.

He was arrested by state police in early January on accusations that he had sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 17 by forcible compulsion on occasions in August, November and December 2011, all in the town of Croghan, and sexual contact with another underage girl on one occasion. He was arraigned on the charges in County Court in May.

Hazzard remains out on $10,000 bail.

Mr. Petzoldt said the mistrial, while unfortunate, was largely unavoidable and not anyone’s fault in particular.

“I would say it’s just one of those things,” he said. “It’s happened before. It happens on occasion.”

Given the nature the charges, Mrs. Hill said, she ordered two panels of jurors totaling 165 people, well over the norm. However, only 73 reported for duty.

Many of those empaneled were either college students or “snowbirds” who live here most of the year but go south for the winter, Mrs. Hill said.

However, there also were 28 no-shows who did not appear to have a legitimate excuse, she said.

While the 73 potential jurors was more than the 55 to 65 state-suggested minimum for a Class B felony trial, 40 of them eventually were excused “for cause,” Mrs. Hill said.

Before a jury is selected, prosecutors and defense attorneys question potential jurors and, along with the judge, have the right to strike any from the pool if they deem the juror unfit to serve or believe the person cannot remain unbiased. In this case, that could have been those who were familiar with the situation or had some experience with childhood abuse, among other things.

The attorneys also may dismiss a certain number of potential jurors at their discretion without specific cause.

Only eight jury slots were able to be filled, Mrs. Hill said.

A jury panel typically consists of 12 members and one or two alternates, although Judge Todd had indicated he would continue the trial if the 12-person mark could be reached, she said.

The trial was slated to begin Nov. 26, but it was delayed because of illness of one of the principals. Jury selection took place Nov. 30 and continued on Monday until the mistrial was declared.

Those jurors who did show up are credited with having fulfilled their jury duty and are exempt from service for 10 years.

The ones who did not likely will be called to appear at the next scheduled trial, Mrs. Hill said. After two unexplained no-shows, the Sheriff’s Department is asked to officially serve delinquent jurors with notice of their next appearance, she said.

Earlier this year, Mrs. Hill commenced Lewis County’s first-ever noncompliance proceeding against Lyons Falls resident Patti J. Williams following three straight no-shows for grand jury duty.

State Supreme Court Judge Charles C. Merrell at an early November hearing adjourned the matter to March 18, giving Ms. Williams an opportunity to show up for her next scheduled grand jury service on March 5 with no further repercussions. However, he warned her that failure to report that time could lead to contempt of court proceedings and possible incarceration.

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