Like the police investigators and medical examiners before them, a federal court jury Wednesday could not unanimously decide whether Pamela Camille Mead was the victim of an accident or a murder.
The five women and seven men on the jury had hinted at a stalemate after about 11 hours of deliberation but acceded to U.S. District Judge Dee Benson's request to "hear each other out one more time." But less than two hours later, Benson declared it a hung jury and scheduled a retrial April 14.Unlike similar cases in state court, juries in federal court must reach a unanimous decision. Jurors did not disclose to the court how they voted in the Mead case or the cause of the impasse.
The wrongful death case involved a contention by Pamela Mead's parents, Garfield and Sinie Stokes, that David Mead intentionally caused their daughter's death for financial gain.
David Mead found his 29-year-old wife floating face down in a shallow, backyard fish pond on the night of Aug. 15, 1994. Medical witnesses testified that the former Continental Air Lines flight attendant had a gash on the back of her head but died from drowning.
"There was no crime committed. This was an accident. It is a shame that the jury could not reach a unanimous decision," said defense attorney Walter F. Bugden. "It's very unfortunate for everyone that there is no answer so that there could be closure to this tragedy."
But the Stokes family and their attorney, Ann Sulton, insisted there was a crime - murder - and vowed to continue their efforts to prove it. The plaintiffs believe Pamela was killed for her stake in the family airline cleaning business, Valley Ground Service, and a $500,000 life insurance policy.
"It was a hard case," Sulton said following the mistrial. "We are disappointed but not deterred, and we're going to retry. (The jury) worked hard on a difficult case. We're going to reset the case to bring the matter to some resolution."
The civil trial featured conflicting evidence and testimony throughout, including contradictory findings by expert medical witnesses. Utah Medical Examiner Todd Grey testified that while he originally certified the death as an accident, investigative reports led him to change his mind and rule it a homicide.
He was referring to statements alleging a murder plot made by David Mead's mistress, Winnetka Walls, and cousin, Jack Hendrix. Walls testified that David Mead told her he was going to arrange for his wife to die in an "accident" so they could marry.
The defense team noted that Walls later recanted that statement and reasserted it only after the Stokes family agreed not to name her as a defendant in the civil lawsuit.
Hendrix, a Utah State Prison inmate, testified that David Mead offered him $30,000 to arrange Pamela Mead's death. Defense lawyers portrayed Hendrix as a cocaine addict who came up with the "preposterous story" after he was arrested for robbing David Mead.
While conceding that the medical evidence was not inconsistent with a finding of accidental death, Grey said he was persuaded that Pamela Mead's death was a "staged murder," a murder made to look like an accident.
The defense expert, Dr. Kris Sperry, deputy medical examiner of Fulton County, Ga., rejected that theory, saying all the evidence pointed to an accident. He called the jury's attention to the fact that Pamela Mead had recently had surgery on her feet that left her in pain and very unsteady.
She slipped, hit her head on a brick or rock surrounding the pond and drowned, Sperry said. If she had been murdered, he said, she probably would have had more than one injury to the head as well as some sign of defensive injuries.
David Mead finished building the fish pond at 582 N. Center Street just two days before the incident. He testified that he was at his airport business when his wife fell.Comment on this story
Sulton said the Stokes family was suspicious of David Mead's version of events because of his extramarital affair, financial problems and stormy relationship with his wife. Mary Stokes testified that at one point in 1992, she flew to Salt Lake City in fear of her sister's life. She said she confronted David Mead about an alleged threat to kill Pamela.
Upon learning of her daughter's death, Sinie Stokes immediately flew to Salt Lake City from her Colorado Springs home only to find the fish pond had already been removed.
Sulton praised Salt Lake police and prosecutors for maintaining an interest in the case, saying Det. Jill Candland in particular had been sensitive and responsive to the Stokes' questions and concerns. The family is hoping that regardless of the outcome in the civil case, prosecutors will eventually file criminal charges.