By LOYD COOK Daily Sun Staff
The slow-starting sexual assault trial of Gwen Manske fell apart in a matter of seconds Thursday when a prosecution witness began to testify about an area the court had ruled off-limits.
District Judge John Jackson declared a mistrial about 10:30 a.m., ruling that the damage to the trial done by the testimony of Corsicana Police Department Detective Bertha Zaidle rendered further proceedings a waste of time.
Manske, 47, of Corsicana was charged with the January 2004 sexual assault of a 15-year-old boy living in her foster care.
Jackson said he was calling the mistrial because of Zaidle’s testimony “in respect to knowing disregard to the ruling of this court.”
Zaidle was the first and only witness of Thursday’s proceedings. Wednesday’s deliberations had ended with Zaidle’s testimony being heard outside the presence of the jury after objections by defense counsel.
Before recessing Wednesday, Jackson issued a preliminary ruling about areas that could be touched on in front of the jury and what areas were not open to testimony, issuing a written ruling before the start of Thursday morning’s proceedings.
But within two minutes of the start of her testimony in front of the jury, Zaidle ventured into an area disallowed under the No. 4 item in Jackson’s ruling.
The No. 4 item in Jackson’s ruling stated: “The Court will not allow testimony relative to contacts with Ms. Manske to the effect that ‘she needed more time’ or that she ‘wanted to consult with counsel’ or anything else related to her decision not to cooperate with any investigation.”
Lead defense attorney F. Clinton Broden of Dallas sprang to his feet as Zaidle began to enter the forbidden area, objecting to the answer. The jury was sent to the jury room while the snafu was hashed out before the judge.
Broden ripped Zaidle.
“… This is either the dumbest woman on the face of the earth or she’s showing a blatant disregard for the court’s ruling,” Broden said to Jackson.
He then directed questions to Zaidle.
Broden asked Zaidle if she knew what the ruling allowed and forbid her to testify about. Zaidle said she did.
He then asked her if she had been instructed that she could not talk about Manske’s desire to speak with her counsel before answering questions from Zaidle during the 2004 investigation.
Zaidle said she had not been instructed in that fashion.
Jackson excused the detective from the stand and she left the courtroom.
Assistant district attorney Bill Price called lead prosecutor Amanda Doan to the stand, ostensibly to testify about what instructions had been given to Zaidle, but Jackson called all attorneys into his chambers to discuss what had happened.
A half-hour later, Jackson was pointed in his remarks about the incident during his declaration of a mistrial.
“I will hold a hearing at a later time to determine what sanctions, if any, should be taken against the witness,” Jackson said, referring to Zaidle. “I further will hold a hearing at a later date to determine if further action is warranted.”
Jackson was specific about where he believed blame for the collapse of the trial lay.
“It’s sad we wasted this time the last few days,” he told the jury before dismissing them. “I will say the misconduct was on the witness and not on the prosecution.”
While no comment was made about what was discussed between the judge and the attorneys in his chambers, that comment was believed to indicate prosecution attorneys satisfied Jackson they had instructed Zaidle about the specifics of his earlier ruling about the areas her testimony could touch on.
Assistant district attorney Bill Price had earlier went one step further.
“I want to put it on the record that we took a brief recess (prior to Zaidle’s testimony) for the purpose of instructing the witness,” Price said.
Doan refused comment when asked if the district attorney’s office would pursue perjury charges against Zaidle.
There remained some question on the extent of the mistrial ruling issued by Jackson. It was unclear if it would be a ruling that would allow another attempt at prosecuting Manske on the sexual assault charge she was indicted on in April 2004 or one that would preclude any further court action.
Manske made a rape allegation against the juvenile on Jan. 10, 2004. The juvenile, during a hearing against him on Jan. 12, 2004, alleged he and Manske had an ongoing, three-month relationship.
On Jan. 13, 2004, Manske dropped charges against the juvenile, telling Zaidle that “he needed help … he didn’t need to be incarcerated,” according to early testimony given by Zaidle.
Loyd Cook may be contacted via e-mail at [email protected]