Crime

Mistrial after jury is polled

Greg Marsten | Staff writer
Quarter pound of meth case likely to get charged again
BALSAM LAKE – A court rarity occurred last week in Polk County when a mistrial was declared. The criminal court trial involved a case against Lucas Libner, 37, Rice Lake. The jury wavered on charges of bail jumping and methamphetamine distribution in a written deliberation query to the judge, but then appeared to do a reversal when a “not guilty” verdict was returned a short time later. However, when the jury was polled after the verdict, one juror disagreed and said she was not in agreement with the verdict, that it was not a unanimous verdict. 
With no obvious remedy for a hung jury that would never come to an agreement on a verdict, Judge Daniel Tolan declared a mistrial, which means the case will need to be filed again and a new jury will need to be a called, which appeared likely.
The two-day jury trial took place on Wednesday, March 13, and Thursday, March 14, in Balsam Lake, with special prosecutor Chad Verbeten from the Wisconsin Department of Justice and Libner’s defense attorney Dan Firkus.
The case against Libner revolved around a joint effort to address a suspected meth deal, culminating in a Sept. 21, 2018, traffic stop in St. Croix Falls, after Libner had been followed in his Chevrolet Tahoe by authorities, as part of an ongoing drug investigation. 
Libner and his passenger, Kayla Stence, 27, Rice Lake, were both detained after the stop and a canine officer subsequently alerted police that there were likely to be drugs in the Tahoe. 
Libner had a felony probation warrant at the time, and a search warrant was issued a short time later, which led to a search of the vehicle, where officers discovered a relatively large amount of meth in the Tahoe, 121.5 grams, with packaging, which equals 4.34 ounces, or an  equivalent to a quarter pound of the drug.
Stence was charged with felony meth possession with intent to sell, as a party to a crime. Her case is currently pending in Polk County Circuit Court, with her next appearance slated for Monday, March 25, before Judge Jeffery Anderson.
Libner was later charged with felony possession of meth, with intent to distribute – as party to a crime, and as a repeater. He was also charged with felony bail jumping, as a repeater, in violation of court terms not to possess or take drugs, stemming from an October 2017 Barron County conviction.
Libner also has a pending Barron County open case where he was not to possess drugs. That case has similar charges, with one felony meth possession charge and one misdemeanor drug paraphernalia possession charge, which is slated to go to trial in Barron at the end of March.   
The jury trial in Polk County started on Wednesday, March 13, and ran into the afternoon on Thursday, March 14. 
There were several instances during deliberations where the jury asked several questions of the court, one of them suggesting that the jury was deadlocked on reaching an agreement on the verdict, stating that they had “approximately eight jurors” leaning toward a guilty plea and three jurors leaning toward a not guilty verdict.
The judge notified the jury that they must return a unanimous verdict, which led to a return to deliberations. They also asked to see a transcript of an audio recording, as it was difficult to hear correctly, and were told there was no such transcript.
The jury then informed the court that they had a verdict, which they delivered about a half-hour later, stating that they found Libner not guilty, but when the jury was polled, after the verdict was announced, one female juror disagreed, and said she did not agree with the not guilty verdict declaration, thus leading to a sort of stalemate for a spell.
Firkus suggested the jury go back to deliberate and come up with a unanimous verdict but Verbeten did not agree and thought the jury was hung, to which Tolan agreed, declaring a mistrial.
With the mistrial, Verbeten has 72 hours, not counting the weekend, to refile charges and seek another trial, which he suggested was his plan. That window of time to refile the charges runs until the end of the day on Tuesday, March 19, which is technically after press time. The charges had not yet been refiled at press time. 
If convicted on all counts, Libner faces up to 40 years in prison on the primary meth possession/intent to sell charge, and up to another six years in prison for the felony bail jumping. The “repeater” enhancements could add as much as another four years to his sentence, if convicted, due to prior, related drug convictions.
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