Judge: No new trial for Dan De Vaul

A judge has denied Dan De Vaul's request for a new trial.

Judge Michael Duffy decided Tuesday morning that there was not sufficient evidence to grant a new trial. The case will now go back to Judge John Trice for sentencing.

De Vaul is a San Luis Obispo rancher who runs a substance abuse recovery program and houses the homeless on his Sunny Acres Farm on Los Osos Valley Road just outside the San Luis Obispo city limits.

He was convicted Sept. 21 on two misdemeanor counts that included violating state fire codes and creating a safety hazard by converting a barn into living quarters, and for illegally storing mobile homes and vehicles on the property.

De Vaul was acquitted in two separate verdicts, and the jury was deadlocked on five other charges against him — which may be re-tried by the District Attorney’s Office.

A woman referred to as Juror 5 wrote in her declaration to the court after the trial concluded that Juror 2 said that because of his position in law enforcement, as well as his wife’s, he knew more about De Vaul’s case than the trial revealed and that De Vaul was guilty.

Juror 2 denied that claim in his declaration — which Deputy District Attorney Craig Van Rooyen included in his argument against a new trial. “I never claimed to have more information than the other jurors about anything relating to the case,” Juror 2 said.

Juror 2 and three others each noted that early in the deliberation process, Juror 5 said that she thought De Vaul was not guilty and had her mind made up, according to Van Rooyen’s filing.

“Almost as soon as we entered the jury deliberation room, when the door closed, Juror Number 5 said she believed the defendant was not guilty on all nine counts,” Juror 4 wrote.

The jurors’ names were redacted in the court documents to protect their identities.

The defense argued that some jurors’ bullying and harassment of Juror 5 to change her verdict led her to vote guilty on the two counts.

But Van Rooyen argued that the thinking behind jurors’ decisions and how they reached their verdicts isn’t impeachable by law.

“The defendant asks for a new trial because one of the jurors has expressed second thoughts about her votes to convict on two counts,” Van Rooyen wrote. “Second thoughts, however, are irrelevant and inadmissible.”

Van Rooyen also said that defense attorney Jeffrey D. Stulberg had opportunities to object to Trice’s questioning of the juror but failed to do so “because the judicial questioning was resulting in answers that bolstered the defense position to retain Juror 5.”

Stulberg responded to Van Rooyen’s argument by saying that he thought a mistrial should have been granted once it was revealed that “the jury has been polarized and infected.”

“The court’s refusal to address the mistrial issue is a fairly strong proof that any further objection would have been fruitless,” Stulberg said.

Stulberg also contended that Trice’s isolation of Juror 5 from the rest of the jury to question her about her willingness to deliberate created a “tremendous” pressure on her, and the judge was overstepping his investigatory duties.

“Interviewing all the jurors rather than isolating and pressuring the only hold-out is far less intrusive, not more intrusive because it levels the playing field,” Stulberg wrote.