The Pasco County capital murder trial of Derral Hodgkins ended in mistrial today, just before the case was to be submitted to the jury. The jury was chosen last week. Opening statements and testimony began on Friday. The jury was scheduled to deliberate tomorrow (Tuesday).
Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa declared a mistrial after a prosecution witness mentioned that Hodgkins had previously been in prison.
"Mr. Hodgkins has the right to be tried only on the evidence of his guilt and not on his prior record," Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa said in granting a motion for a mistrial.
The case was immediately set for retrial on April 4th.
Hodgkins is accused of killing Teresa Lodge in Land O'Lakes in 2006. Authorities say Lodge was stabbed several times. Hodgkins was charged with the killing in 2007 when DNA tests allegedly matched him to scrapings taken from under Lodge's fingernails.
The state called Robert Weeks to testify on Monday. Weeks had shared a jail pod with Hodgkins after his arrest for Lodge's murder. Weeks testified about several things he claimed Hodgkins told him about Lodge. A prosecutor asked Weeks if Hodgkins had ever talked about financial problems. Weeks answered, "Yeah, he was having trouble. Just like anybody when you get out of prison."
The judge had previously ruled that prosecutors were prohibited from eliciting testimony related to Hodgkins' criminal history. The jurors were not to be influenced by such information. The defense moved for a mistrial based on Weeks' statement.
Judge Siracusa said given what's at stake (potentially, the death penalty if Hodgkins were convicted) the problem was insurmountable. Jurors deciding a case are generally prohibited from knowing a defendant's prison record because of the prejudicial impact such information could have.
Hodgkins is represented by Tampa Bay area criminal defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand.