Five jury members believed an Atlantic Beach town councilwoman was guilty of resisting arrest during a December traffic stop, but one juror's doubts delayed the conclusion to the case.
That sixth juror believed Retha Pierce was both "guilty and not guilty," said juror Mary Bittle, who was among the five voting for a guilty verdict in Thursday's trial. With the jury unable to make a unanimous decision, Judge Margie Livington had to declare the case a mistrial, leaving prosecutors to try it again.
Deputy Solicitor Fran Humphries said late Thursday that the case will return to court, though no date has been set. Pierce's attorney, Irby Walker of Conway, said he is disappointed that his client's name was not cleared completely Thursday, but disagreed with a retrial.
"There's no reason to believe it would come out any differently than it did today," Walker said.
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The trial stemmed from a Dec. 25 traffic stop in Little River, when Horry County police officer Robert Dale pulled onto U.S. 17 behind Pierce about 9 p.m. Pierce's van was swerving between lanes, forcing other cars to dodge her, Dale testified Wednesday.
After following her for about two miles, Dale stopped Pierce near Horseshoe Road, and she got out of her van and locked the doors as the officer walked up. Pierce said she needed to get to a bathroom, but Dale ordered her to stay where she was, according to both their testimony and a police-dashboard video.
Pierce then started away, but Dale grabbed her and quickly shoved her against the side of her van. As Pierce continued screaming that she needed to use the bathroom, Dale put her in handcuffs and led her back to his patrol car.
"I'm the mayor-elect of Atlantic Beach," Pierce said in the video, referring to the previous month's contested mayoral election. "I wouldn't try to run."
"I don't care if you're the president of the United States," the officer replied. "You don't do that during traffic stops."
In court Thursday, Pierce cried softly while the video played, then testified that she suffers from a bladder condition that strikes her suddenly. She was too consumed by her need, she said, to carefully consider the officer's instructions.
"I remember praying because I felt like my heart was going to fail me," Pierce said. "I didn't really understand what was going on, being so preoccupied with trying to get to the bathroom."
Her attorney said the officer failed to use common sense by arresting Pierce.
"Does she look like she was going to flush narcotics down the toilet?" Walker asked. "This man overreacted."
The prosecutor, however, countered by questioning Pierce's common sense.
"We all know that you can't walk away from a traffic stop," Graustein said. "Did she have to use the bathroom? Maybe. Maybe. But that doesn't give her the right to walk away."
During their hour of deliberating, the jurors asked once to replay the arrest video, then asked what would happen if they could not come to a verdict, and finally gave up. Graustein said he was not surprised they struggled with it.
"It's not an easy case," Graustein said. "There are some circumstances there that distract from what I think are the real issues here."
The man who voted "not guilty" said he did not see Pierce's actions as resisting arrest, and did not plan to change his mind, said Susan Wofford, the jury forewoman.
"I was hoping six adults could come to an agreement on one thing," Wofford said. "I hate that it ended the way it did."
Pierce's trial Thursday on the criminal charge comes in the midst of her appeal in the November mayoral election, which she initially won by a margin of 71-70, but was later thrown out amid a series of challenges.
The state Supreme Court agreed last month to speed the case through the appeals process. Last week, Pierce's attorney filed his first written argument, arguing that the 71-70 vote total should stand and that Pierce should be declared mayor outright, without a new election. Her opponent, incumbent Irene Armstrong, was suspended after an indictment in March on charges of misconduct in office and bribery at elections.
The next filing will be the town election commission's response, which its attorney, Amanda Bailey of the McNair Law Firm in Myrtle Beach, said is due Aug. 8. Only a few filings remain after that response, and they are each due within a matter of weeks, meaning the case could be ready for consideration by the state's high court in September.
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