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Thursday, May 5, 2016


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thirteen hours to choose a jury. Two days of testimony from 26 witnesses. Eight hours of jury deliberations.

But no verdict in the murder trial of Viola resident Richard Gordon.

"We have no choice but to declare a mistrial," said Circuit Judge Tim Weaver, about 9:15 p.m., Friday, Sept. 24. "We will try this case again as soon as we can get it reset."

Weaver said the court had no choice but to make that decision after the jury, which heard the case, admitted it was hopelessly deadlocked.

Gordon, 62, was charged with the Sept. 3, 2009 murder of Joseph Clifton, 32. Clifton was a neighbor of Gordon's and the two had been involved in a dispute over a gate Clifton and his wife, Denise, put across a road leading to their house. Gordon believed they had illegally blocked a public roadway he and others often needed to use.

After hearing two days of testimony, the jury began trying to reach a verdict shortly before 1 p.m. Friday, after the prosecution and defense presented closing arguments.

More than 20 relatives and friends of the Clifton's attended the trial and stayed on, waiting for hours for a verdict.

Most who attended the trial expected a fairly quick decision.

Clifton had been shot three times after pulling up to the gate which sparked neighborhood controversy. His 3-year-old son was in the backseat of Clifton's vehicle at the time of the shooting but was unharmed.

Prosecution witnesses described Gordon's anger over the gate and threats he had made toward the Cliftons.

"He went down there with the sole purpose of killing either Joe or Denise. It did not matter which one. One of them was going to die," said District Attorney Don McSpadden, in his closing argument.

Defense attorney Jeff Rosenzweig told jurors that Gordon, who has a history of mental problems, was highly agitated by what he perceived as threats the Clifton's made against him and opened fire in self defense when Clifton grabbed a rifle in his truck.

"What we have here is a situation, a tragedy, where antagonism had built up ... and it blew up," said Rosenzwieg. "It is undisputed that Clifton had a gun."

As deliberations wore on, it became apparent some jurors could not agree on the verdict of first degree murder, the prosecution wanted.

Jurors had much shocking and sad testimony to look back on. Of the prosecutions 21 witnesses, Denise Clifton faced the toughest task.

Clifton, a nurse, testified to discovering her husband's body after arriving home from work and her frantic efforts to revive him.

"The first thing I saw was a bullet hole in his side and I started screaming at him," said Clifton. "He was not responding and I knew what happened."

Clifton also described the emotionally wrenching discovery that her 3-year-old son, in the back of the vehicle, was unharmed.

"He didn't appear to have any blood on him," Clifton testified. "Physically, he was OK but he was drenched in sweat. He was pale as a ghost. There are not words to describe how terrified he looked."

The defense called just five witnesses, including Richard Gordon.

Gordon began his testimony by admitting he shot Clifton but adding he regretted the incident that led to Clifton's death.

Gordon claimed that Clifton had threatened to shoot him if he saw him on Clifton's property.

According to Gordon, he acted in self defense when Clifton found him just outside the gate leading to Clifton's home.

"He asked me what I was doing on his road," Gordon testified. "I told him this is not his road. It's a county road ... He said, 'I told you I was going to shoot you for trespassing.' I said, 'You are not going to shoot nobody. It's a county road.'" ... "He reached down, he had a rifle in the truck. He proceeded to pull the rifle up and I opened fire to protect myself."

In an effort to support Clifton's story, defense attorney Rosenzweig repeatedly emphasized a crime scene photo showing a rifle on the passenger seat of Clifton's truck.

During their long deliberation, jurors twice sent out questions to Judge Weaver and, shortly after 9 p.m., Weaver called attorneys into the courtroom, after receiving a third note.

"We are hopelessly deadlocked," Weaver read from the note, which went on to say one person had serious doubts about a verdict of Murder 1 and wanted a verdict of manslaughter.

After discussing the situation, jurors were called into the courtroom.

"Do you believe further deliberations will be fruitful to the resolution of this case?" asked the Judge.

"No sir, we are hopelessly deadlocked," the jury foreperson replied. "We do not anticipate a change."

Several members of the audience sobbed and jury members appeared somber and frustrated as the judge declared a mistrial.

As a security precaution, Judge Weaver asked jurors and spectators to remain seated as Gordon was taken from the courtroom to jail.

Jurors then filed out.

With tears running down her face, Denise Clifton said, "They (the jury) tried. At least they cared."

Outside the courthouse, a female juror spoke with supporters of the Clifton family about the deadlock.

"I feel terrible," said the juror, who did not want to be identified. "We just couldn't get her to change her mind."

The juror explained that, initially, jurors were fairly evenly split as to whether there was enough evidence to convict Gordon of murder. But, as they went through the evidence piece by piece, 11 jurors eventually expressed firm support for a murder conviction.

"We said to her, 'There are 11 of us. You can't see what we're seeing?'" said the juror. But, she explained, the holdout juror stood by her conviction there was not enough evidence to convince her the murder was premeditated.

Clifton supporters expressed frustration that a dangerous man, who, they claimed, would do harm to other Clifton family members if released, had escaped conviction.

Gordon was returned to the Izard County Detention Center, where he has been incarcerated since the shooting. He has, apparently, been unable to make a $1 million bond.

Attorneys and the Judge must now discuss a retrial and when it will take place.

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