Fishers couple convicted in day care death to get new trial after juror misconduct

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Daniel Wahl (left) and Saundra Wahl (right)

FISHERS, Ind. (March 16, 2016) – A Fishers couple sentenced in the death of a toddler at their licensed home day care will get a new trial.

The Indiana Supreme Court overturned the convictions of Daniel and Saundra Wahl, citing “juror misconduct” in their 2014 trial.

In 2013, a 1-year-old child under their care died after getting trapped between a broken baby gate and a wall. A Hamilton County jury found them guilty after a trial in May 2014.

They were sentenced to two years in prison and a year of probation after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of 1-year-old Anthony DiRienzo. The couple previously appealed the ruling; the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the verdict in a June 2015 decision.

However, the Indiana Supreme Court opinion handed down Tuesday overturned the appeals court’s decision. In the opinion, Justice Brent Dickson said the disruptive behavior of a juror affected the other jurors.

That juror “immediately began to involve himself in the deliberations,” the judge wrote, even though the trial court had instructed the jury that that the “alternate juror will be with you in the jury room but is not permitted to participate in your deliberations or verdicts.”

That juror handled physical evidence and “repeatedly replayed a portion of the DVD that was in evidence, with ever-increasing volume, until all jurors were giving it their attention,” according to court documents.

One of the jurors wrote an email describing the alternate juror’s behavior to the trial judge. The Wahls filed for a mistrial after learning about the email, but their motion was denied.

After sentencing, they filed a “motion to correct error” seeking a mistrial; a sworn affidavit alleging the alternate juror’s misconduct was also presented. That motion was also denied.

The State argued that the alternate juror’s participation was “harmless” and didn’t adversely affect the trial. Dickson wrote that the State failed to prove that the alternate juror’s conduct was indeed harmless.

“The facts presented in the affidavit do not establish jury impartiality, and the State presents no other grounds to satisfy its burden to show that the jury remained impartial despite the presumed prejudice,” Dickson wrote. “When ‘the State does not rebut the presumption, the trial court must grant a new trial.’”