Defense attorneys comments prompts mistrial

Thursday, October 14th 2004, 6:27 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A defense attorney's disclosure before the jury on Wednesday prompted an Oklahoma County district judge to declare a mistrial in the second day of opening statements in the retrial Benjamin Harry Crider II.

Crider, 46, is charged with the June 13, 1996, death of his stepdaughter, 12-year-old Crystal Dittmeyer.

The girl disappeared from the Oklahoma City apartment she shared with Crider and her mother. Her body has not been found.

Prosecutors allege Crider killed Crystal because he was angered when he arrived home and found the girl in his master bathroom shower _ a violation of his house rules. They argue Crider struggled with the girl and then struck and killed her.

Judge Tammy Bass-Jones declared a mistrial Wednesday afternoon after defense attorney David Autry during his opening statements talked about the girl's underwear that was found in the home.

Bass-Jones had ordered that the jury should not hear about evidence that the panties found in the apartment contained semen that was not linked to Crider, which raises the question that someone else was in the apartment.

Prosecutors objected as Autry tried to finish his sentence and Bass-Jones attempted to get both sides to stop talking.

Bass-Jones said she may hold Autry in contempt of court.

After a recess, Autry argued to the judge he should be allowed to tell the jury about the panties because Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane had ``opened the door'' on the subject during the prosecution's opening statements.

Lane told jurors Tuesday that Crider was the only person with access to Crystal during the time frame prosecutors allege she was killed. Autry suggested such a statement enabled him to bring up evidence that showed someone else may have been in the apartment.

Bass-Jones disagreed, telling Autry, ``I believe your conduct here has just blown me away. You don't get to represent your client and knowingly violate a court order.''

Autry remained steady on his position as he left the courtroom.

``I was trying to the best of my ability to represent my client and give the jury the full story and the truth, and we were prevented from doing that,'' he said.

Autry and Lane each asked the judge to grant a mistrial. Lane said Autry's comments had tainted the jury.

Bass-Jones said Crider _ who was convicted in 1999 before the verdict was overturned because of improper evidence allowed at trial _ could face a six- month wait before a third trial can begin.