A judge declared a mistrial Thursday afternoon in the sexual assault case against Israel Espiricueta, a former owner of The Library Bar in downtown Fort Worth.
State District Judge Chris Wolfe issued the ruling after the jury of 10 men and two women sent the judge their 10th note, saying they couldn’t reach a “unanimous decision.”
“The biggest factor in this case was consent,” said defense attorney Brandon Barnett of Fort Worth shortly after the judge’s ruling. Barnett noted the jury struggled with it.
“We understand the difficulties of the case,” said Chip Lewis of Houston, another defense attorney. “We feel badly for Israel. He’s been through hell for a year and a half.”
Jurors gave the judge notice early Thursday afternoon that they were at an impasse, but Wolfe asked them to continue deliberating. The disclosure came from a scrawled note the jury sent before 2 p.m. Thursday.
Lewis first asked Wolfe for a mistrial at that time. The judge initially denied the motion before granting a mistrial less than two hours later.
“We don’t have any comment at this point,” said Sam Jordan, a spokeswoman for the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office in a Thursday email, when asked for any comments on the mistrial or whether prosecutors would continue to pursue the case.
Jurors were trying to decide whether the evidence proved Espiricueta raped a woman in the Fort Worth bar of which he was part owner. Prosecutors argued the woman was passed out at The Library Bar after business hours on the morning of Dec. 23, 2017, when Espiricueta assaulted her. Defense attorneys argued the sex was consensual.
Before he instructed the jury to continue deliberations earlier Thursday afternoon, Wolfe asked defense attorneys and prosecutors if he should question a juror who was overheard by a bailiff saying to other jurors that they would reach a decision Thursday because she had to go to work on Friday. The juror was not questioned.
The jury began deliberations just before 5 p.m. Wednesday and continued for most of the day Thursday.
The jury sent Wolfe note after note asking for items such as the surveillance video of the alleged rape, testimony and photos.
In a note sent just before noon Thursday, the jury raised a question on the word “consent.” Lewis, who told the judge the jury was “struggling” with the case, said that jurors should be given a definition of “consent.” But the judge declined to provide the jury with any definitions.
Testimony and closing arguments
In closing arguments Wednesday, Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Julie Harbin encouraged the jury to re-watch the video.
“She is not moving the entire time,” Harbin said. “The only one moving was him as he’s thrusting into her.”
Harbin reminded jurors the woman testified that she did not remember the sex in the bar.
“She will never know everything that happened to her,” Harbin said. “He was looking for an opportunity and took it.”
Harbin also pointed out the woman suffered numerous bruises and tears in her genital area. The woman told police Espiricueta continued to sexually assault her at a hotel after they left the bar.
“When she woke up, she was in so much pain,” the prosecutor said.
The woman’s name has not been used in the case. She testified on Monday that she had gone out just for drinks at the bar, at 611 Houston St., that night in December 2017.
In his closing arguments, Lewis told jurors there was no doubt that the woman expressed consent to have sex with Espiricueta.
“We cannot allow injustice based on this evidence,” Lewis said referring to what defense attorneys called gaps in the case presented by prosecutors. “He just ain’t a rapist.”
Espiricueta testified that the sex was consensual and the woman was never unconscious. The 42-year old Austin man took the witness stand Wednesday on the third day of the trial.
He said he drove the woman to a downtown Fort Worth hotel, and checked into a room where they continued to have sex.
Lewis said the woman initiated the contacts with Espiricueta, consented and later regretted what she did because she had a boyfriend.
“These are sad cases,” Lewis said. “No one is a winner here.”