A judge on Monday declared a mistrial during the third day of jury deliberations in the case of a U.S. Army soldier charged with murder in a 2018 New Year’s Eve party shooting that left three men dead.
Jurors on Monday told Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Joan Synenberg that copies of legal briefs from prosecutors and Tevin Biles-Thomas’ attorneys somehow ended up among the trial evidence the court gave the jury to consult during its deliberations.
The briefs included a debate between prosecutors and defense attorneys over whether Biles-Thomas might have acted in self-defense.
The legal paperwork included a request from Biles-Thomas’ attorney, Joe Patituce, for Synenberg to instruct the jury on self-defense and tell them that they could find that Biles-Thomas committed the shooting but was acting in defense of his cousin. Synenberg denied the motion, and Patituce told jurors during closing arguments last week that Biles-Thomas did not have a gun at the party.
Synenberg, on Monday afternoon, brought the jury into the courtroom and asked if the information they read in the briefs influenced their decision in any way. All 12 jurors answered yes.
It was unclear on Monday how the briefs ended up among the evidence in the trial that began May 11. Patituce told assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutors Greg Mussman and Kevin Bringman that he and fellow defense attorney Catherine Meehan did not print any paperwork during the trial and used only electronic copies.
Mussman and Patituce could not comment on the development on Monday because Synenberg previously imposed a gag order preventing the attorneys from discussing the case in the media.
A new trial is set to begin Wednesday with jury selection.
Biles-Thomas, 26, is charged with multiple counts of murder, voluntary manslaughter, felonious assault and one count of perjury in the shooting deaths of his cousin, Devaughn Gibson, and DelVaunte Johnson and Toshaun Banks.
Biles-Thomas is the brother of gymnast and U.S. Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, and his August 2019 indictment garnered national headlines for that reason. He spent three months jailed on a $1 million bond set at his September 2019 arraignment before Syneberg reduced his bond to 10 percent of $100,000. He has been free since December 2019.
The shooting came just before midnight on Dec. 31, 2018, at an Airbnb party that started small but grew larger and louder as people invited friends who in turn invited friends.
Prosecutors said Johnson grabbed Gibson by the collar and pushed him up against the refrigerator during the party, and Biles-Thomas overreacted by producing a pistol and opening fire on Johnson. Johnson returned fire before Biles-Thomas shot and killed him and Banks. Both Johnson and Biles-Thomas shot Gibson, but Johnson’s shot was the fatal one, prosecutors said.
No physical evidence tied Biles-Thomas to the shooting. Prosecutors instead relied on statements from two witnesses. One of the witnesses, who suffered a gunshot in the arm, said she never saw the shooter’s face and could not identify Biles-Thomas as the shooter.
The other, who testified as part of a deal with prosecutors in which they reduced a felony charge to a misdemeanor in exchange for his testimony, tripped up during cross-examination and said he didn’t see Biles-Thomas shoot.
Both witnesses identified Biles-Thomas by the clothing he was seen wearing while walking into the party on security video that police detectives played for them. However, both also gave different descriptions of the jacket that the shooter was wearing.
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