BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Nov. 30, 2017–Reports reaching Belize are that the trial of Belizean Brian Hyde, 21, accused of a gruesome triple murder in Lehigh Acres, Florida, was halted less than two hours after it began because a witness referred to the immigrant status of the accused, thereby prejudicing the jury against the accused, forcing a Lee Country judge to declare a mistrial.
Hyde was charged with three counts of second degree murder for stabbing his aunt, her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend in August of 2015.
Dorrien Pitts, the husband of Dorla Pitts, 37, whom Hyde has been accused of killing, along with Starlette Pitts, 17, and Michael Kelly, 19, was testifying at the opening of the trial on Wednesday. Pitts reportedly was only on the witness stand for about three minutes when he made the remark about Hyde’s immigrant status.
On Wednesday, Pitts testified that Hyde came to live at his Lehigh Acres home. “He is my wife’s nephew, so she asked if he can come stay with us,” Pitts said, adding that he (Hyde) had been incarcerated at the Texas detention center for illegal crossing.
Following a sidebar meeting of the attorneys, Judge Margaret O. Steinbeck ordered the jury out.
Steinbeck said, “Hyde’s immigration status is not relevant and it’s potentially prejudicial. Let’s see if you can un-ring the bell.”
Assistant State Attorney Andreas Gardiner said that the entire family is from Belize and that Hyde had been temporarily detained in order to be released to the family.
Gardiner could not, however, un-ring the bell, and asked Steinbeck to instruct the jury that the information was irrelevant.
Hyde’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender, Jay Brizel disagreed: “I don’t believe we can un-ring this bell,” he said.
Before the trial, they had filed a motion making Hyde’s immigrant status off limits.
“Unfortunately, we live in a time where it is a hot-button issue”, Brizel said.
He added, “We have half a country who favors building a wall along the Texas
Judge Steinbeck agreed.
Tamara Lave, an associate professor of law at the University of Miami, weighed in and said the judge made the right call.
“Judges are reluctant to call a mistrial,” Lave said. “When you call a mistrial, it means everything you’ve done thus far is lost.”
Lave said that at times a judge can instruct a jury to ignore a statement that is made, but there are some things that jury instruction can’t correct.
“In this instance, the judge thought that in the climate we are currently in, that a jury would not be able to forget that the accused was an illegal immigrant right now, with what is a xenophobic and racist attitude in our country,” Lave said.
Lave said Hyde has constitutional rights and those take priority over efficiency concerns.
The jury consisted of five women and three men, who had heard opening statements before Pitts took the stand.
In addition to the three adults that Hyde was accused of killing, he is also facing another count of murder for Starlette Pitts’ unborn child, making it three counts of 2nd degree murder for the three adults, and one count of killing an unborn child by causing injury to the mother.
Hyde spared the life of one-year-old A’ziah Kelly, who was found by police with blood on her and crying, but was unhurt.
At the opening of the trial, Gardiner had detailed how the victims were found with multiple cut and stab wounds to their bodies.
Sexual assault kits confirmed that semen matching Hyde’s was found on the two women’s bodies.
A new trial is expected to get underway sometime next year after the prosecution retools its case and a new jury is selected.