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Mistrial in sex assault case

ROGERS CITY — A scheduled two-day trial in Rogers City ended abruptly in a mistrial on Wednesday when the court ran out of potential jurors.

An extra half-panel of jurors, for a total of 62 area residents, had been summoned for the trial of Michael Rigot, of Onaway, in Presque Isle County’s 53rd Circuit Court. Twelve of those were excused before Wednesday, and five didn’t show up on the morning of the trial.

The remaining 45 jurors packed the Rogers City courtroom at the beginning of the day Wednesday, but, by late morning, the number left in the hot courtroom had dwindled as potential jury members were excused by the prosecutor or defense attorney or by the presiding judge, several of them because they said they could not be objective.

A date for a new trial, with an entirely new pool of jurors, will be established on Monday.

It is common for courts to seat a jury of 13, one more than the well-known 12, allowing the trial to continue if one juror becomes ill or needs to be excused for another reason.

Fourteen potential jurors were chosen at random from the pool of 45 Wednesday because of the expected length of the trial and anticipated heat of the upcoming days.

That number dropped to 11 after potential jurors were excused. With nobody left in the jury pool to fill the empty slots, presiding Judge Aaron Gauthier declared a mistrial.

The remaining 11 were dismissed after two-and-a-half hours of attempted jury selection, a mixture of relief and disappointment on their faces as they left the room.

Rigot is charged with four counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct toward a minor by a person older than 17, in addition to other charges. Several of the jurors were dismissed after they admitted that they would be unable to be unbiased in hearing the case. Others were excused because of conflicts or health difficulties that would make it impossible for them to do their duty as jurors.

In a jury trial, the prosecution and the defense both have opportunity to dismiss jurors for cause, the lawyer giving the judge a specific reason why the juror can’t be considered unbiased. Attorneys may also offer a peremptory challenge, asking that a juror be excused without sharing a reason. The presiding judge also may excuse jurors with the attorneys’ consent if he or she deems them unable to serve.

Running out of jurors is a rarity, Gauthier told the remaining 11 potential jurors before they were dismissed. The goal of the courts is to call in more potential jurors than are needed, to be sure that trials are able to proceed as planned.

The five jurors with an unexcused absence Wednesday morning — any of whom might have, by their presence, allowed the trial to proceed — may be required to appear at a show-cause hearing to explain their absence and risk being censured by the court.

While the dismissal of the trial, for which much preparation had been done, was a disappointment, the law does entitle both sides to a jury of 12, Gauthier told the 11 left in the jurors’ box.

“That’s a very important protection in our society so that someone’s liberty can’t be taken away before 12 of their fellow citizens agree unanimously that would be right and proper,” Gauther told them.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.