Judge VeNoy Christofferson says his decisions on what evidence to allow in the sexual abuse trial of state Sen. Darrell Renstrom this past week were among the most difficult in his bench career.
Christoffersen, commenting on the two-day trial after an eight-member jury acquitted the Ogden Democrat late Friday, said that perhaps the most difficult decision of the trial was a ruling to exclude prosecution witnesses who purportedly would have testified they had been approached by Renstrom in a sexually suggestive manner.Meanwhile, one juror who asked not to be identified expressed disgust that certain evidence was ruled inadmissible, while Renstrom's attorney maintained that his client is innocent and justice was served.
Christoffersen, a 1st District Court judge from Logan called in to try the case when Weber County judges excused themselves due to familiarity with Renstrom, said he felt the prejudicial nature of that testimony outweighed its value in the trial. Further, Christofferson said he felt the additional witnesses' stories "were not all that trustworthy."
Christoffersen said some of the reports went back to 1981 and some were made only after charges were filed against Renstrom, even though they were alleged to have occurred prior to the incident involving Nyles Mitchell.
Mitchell alleged Renstrom picked him up, propositioned him and fondled him. Renstrom acknowledged picking up Mitchell, who he said was hitchhiking, but denied propositioning or fondling him.
On his way out the door after the trial Friday, Christoffersen said he had to make some tough calls, but felt it was a good trial.
"I'm glad to be going back to Cache Valley though," he said.
The juror, who asked that his name be withheld, said the suppressed evidence could have made a difference.
Randall Richards, Renstrom's co-counsel, said witnesses on both sides were unable to testify.
"I fully believe Darrell is innocent," Richards said. "This Mitchell guy has been a liar, a lawbreakerand a seeker of notoriety his whole life."
Richards said that although he could not look into Mitchell's mind, he believes that Mitchell saw an opportunity to make headlines when Renstrom offered him a ride.
Renstrom, the 12-year veteran senator who is seeking re-election against Republican challenger Boyd K. Story in November, said he will decide soon if he will stay in the race.