Expert says she would have asked for mistrial over Chandler Halderson COVID-19 diagnosis

MADISON, Wis. — A defense attorney not affiliated with the Chandler Halderson homicide trial says she would have wanted to ask for a mistrial over the COVID-19 delay if she was on the defense team.

Jessa Nicholson Goetz says if she was representing a client whose trial was interrupted by such a delay, she would have concerns about taking a break in the middle of the state’s case, given the unprecedented nature of the situation.

“The jury is going to have only heard the prosecution’s version of the events and they’re going to be replaying that in their head until they start to hear new evidence, so I think it overemphasizes the state’s case because it lets them sit with it for a long time without hearing another narrative,” Nicholson Goetz said.

She also says she would be concerned about jurors possibly coming across other information about the trial during the downtime they otherwise wouldn’t have access to, or having other people ask them questions about the case — both of which are not allowed during a trial, which was reiterated in a court order by Judge John Hyland Wednesday morning.

RELATED: Halderson trial delayed until at least Jan. 18, no mistrial request

Nicholson Goetz says it might not be realistic to expect that of jurors with a trial being delayed for nearly a week.

“I find that to be a little bit of magical thinking, no matter how well-intended or earnest jurors are,” she said. “They’re home, they’re probably quarantining because they’ve been in this courtroom with a positive COVID (case), their family’s going to want to know what’s going on.”

Nicholson Goetz said if she was involved in the case, her preference would have been to start over with a new pool of jurors. However, the defense attorneys for Chandler Halderson indicated Wednesday morning they would not be seeking a mistrial after consulting with Halderson himself.

“It’s my understanding that the defense team spoke to their client and their client was not interested in a mistrial, so obviously that’s a factor you have to consider, but I would’ve been very concerned about having a break that long in the middle of the state’s case, or toward the end of the state’s case,” Nicholson Goetz said.

MORE: Full coverage of the Chandler Halderson homicide investigation and trial — live stream, previous stories, timelines and interviews

Judge Hyland told jurors the soonest the trial could resume is Tuesday, January 18, due to CDC guidelines on quarantining and Monday’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday. Jurors will be contacted on Friday with an update on the situation and a possible date for the trial to resume.

Prior to the delay, prosecutors had indicated they were nearing the end of their case, saying they could have rested their case by as soon as this Friday. Nicholson Goetz said it may take some time for the attorneys to get back into the rhythm of the case once the trial does resume.

“Usually you don’t have summaries in the middle of a trial or other statements. I also expect the lawyers are going to take a little while to get back in their groove, and so it’ll probably be clunky and slow coming back,” Nicholson Goetz said.