A Thurston County judge granted a mistrial Thursday for Ashley Conroy, four days into the trial of the 23-year-old woman whose son died in a fire.
Judge Gary Tabor granted a mistrial because Conroy might have given a statement to law enforcement without having been read her Miranda rights. Conroy was facing manslaughter charges.
Conroy was arrested in November 2014 after her 18-month-old son, William Bradsnyder, died in a structure fire at 7030 Steamboat Island Road. Conroy and her son had been living in a bedroom inside a converted shop.
While testifying Wednesday, McLane-Black Lake Fire Chief Steve North identified an electric grill found between the bed and desk in the bedroom as the source of the fire. He also described a diagram of the bedroom Conroy allegedly made shortly after the fire.
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While being cross-examined by attorney Sunni Ko, who represents Conroy, North said the diagram had been shown to him by a uniformed deputy. However, he was unsure who the deputy was, and the diagram was never collected as evidence.
Ko first made a motion for a mistrial Thursday morning, after the jury was dismissed for their morning break. She said that prior to North’s testimony, she had believed that Sgt. David Claridge was the only law enforcement officer who had interviewed Conroy. She said she had concerns that Conroy’s Fifth Amendment right — a person’s right to decline to answer questions if the answers might incriminate them — might have been violated if she had not been read her Miranda rights by the deputy who asked her to draw the diagram.
At that time, Tabor denied the motion. He asked whether Ko had seen a reference to the diagram in North’s report, and she said she had. He asked whether she had attempted to locate the diagram, and Ko said she hadn’t.
When the jury entered the room again, Ko continued her cross-examination of North, asking about photos of the crime scene. When she finished asking questions, Deputy Prosecutor Craig Juris asked North about a conversation that he allegedly had with Conroy shortly after the fire.
North testified that during this conversation, Conroy had told him that a heater had been plugged into the wall and placed between the bed and the desk. He said he found no heat source besides the grill in the area Conroy described.
At noon, the jury left the courtroom for their lunch break. Tabor said he would reflect on the issue of the diagram during the break, and advised Ko and Juris to discuss “other issues” during the break.
Ko, Juris and Conroy returned at about 1:15 p.m., and the two attorneys discussed a change of plea in the case. However, they didn’t reach an agreement for a recommended sentence.
When court reconvened, Ko again made a motion for a mistrial.
“We can’t un-ring this bell,” Ko said. “The jury has heard (about the diagram).”
“I believe my client has been denied a right to a fair trial,” she added.
This time, Tabor granted the request.
“To say that there have been problems in this trial is an understatement,” Tabor said. “I have many, many concerns.”
He said he granted the mistrial based on concerns about the diagram, and a potential violation of Conroy’s Fifth Amendment right. Tabor said the diagram also could have been made by someone else at the scene, and that North might have misunderstood what the deputy who showed him the diagram had said.
The jury had heard about the diagram several times, and Tabor said he didn’t think they would be able to disregard that testimony.
Tabor also expressed concerns about other evidence in the case.
One of the problems, he said, was the electric grill. Ko pointed out that the grill had never been listed on the evidence log. She said she found it suspicious that the grill had “miraculously” appeared when trial started.
Because she had been made aware of the grill’s existence so late in the process, it hadn’t been examined by an expert witness for the defense.
Another issue were the 120 to 130 photos admitted into evidence. Tabor said that he believed detectives had misidentified some of the photos during testimony.
Understanding the scene was further hampered by the lack of a crime scene diagram and measurements of the building, Tabor said. And a surveillance video of the fire had an inaccurate time marking, but that was never explained to the jury, Tabor said.
He said several problems would have emerged had the trial continued — and those problems could be grounds for an appeal.
Because the motion for a mistrial was filed by the defense, the case could be retried, if the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office re-files charges.
Conroy was still in custody Thursday, but Judge Tabor set bail at $100,000.