Due to the defense attorney's illness, a mistrial has been declared in the first-degree murder case of a Locust Grove man accused in a laundromat shooting—before the trial even started.
Judge Dale Durrer made the ruling Wednesday in Orange County Circuit Court in the absence of lawyer David Randle, who was admitted to Martha Jefferson Hospital early Monday for treatment of an “unforeseen and unpredictable illness,” according to the judge.
Randle, of Stanardsville, is representing Michael Alan Humphries II, 38, who is charged with first-degree murder and use of a firearm in commission of a felony in the Feb. 13, 2018, death of Alistair Smith, 24, inside Wendell’s Place Laundromat on State Route 20 in Orange County.
Randle was in court Friday for the successful selection of a 15-member jury to hear the case. He was admitted to the hospital just hours before the trial was slated to start on Monday.
The defense attorney will remain the hospital for further tests and treatment until at least Sunday, according to the judge.
“This exact scenario has not really come up in Virginia,” Durrer told the jury Wednesday morning before dismissing them from service.
He referenced other cases from other states in which a “manifest necessity” required trials to be cancelled due to lawyer or witness illness.
“This case has been postponed before by defense motion and the court feels a need to get the case tried, but sometimes things happen beyond our control,” Durrer said.
The judge said he spoke by teleconference Wednesday with Randle from his hospital room and had received a letter from the hospital stating the defense attorney would remain in its care “for an indefinite duration.” During the teleconference, Randle asked for the mistrial.
Durrer said he considered continuing the trial, but decided that it would be too difficult to coordinate jury member’s schedules and keep them from learning media information about the case. “It would put you in the position of being very isolated while we took time to reset the case,” he said.
Orange County Commonwealth’s Attorney Diana O’Connell said the prosecution was ready to move forward, but recognized the severity of the defense attorney’s medical condition would make that impossible.
Durrer told the jury he deeply appreciated their service.
“You are free to go,” he said, telling them their service matters and merits applause. “Citizen participation in the process is what makes this the greatest country in the world.”
Humphries, seated alone at the defense table, nodded at jury members as they filed out. Durrer told the defendant the mistrial was “an impossible condition there is no work around for.”
“You have a right to have this case move along efficiently, but these things happen from time to time,” the judge said.
A scheduling hearing in the case was set for 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 10. Randle is expected to attend and remain as attorney for Humphries.
In April, the defendant requested and was granted a new attorney—Randle—after filing a complaint of ineffective counsel for his previous lawyer. At the time, Humphries waived his constitutional right to a speedy trial.
The defendant was remanded to custody following Wednesday’s hearing, giving a thumbs-up to a family member seated in the courtroom.
According to testimony, the purported victim, Smith, was shot twice in the head and once in the arm on the day of the crime more than 19 months ago. Humphries told authorities he believed his wife was having an affair with Smith, according to court records.