After skipping a hearing and leading to mistrial for 3 men accused of gang-raping a 9-year-old Utah girl, potential jurors blame court error

Silver Summit When Christy Froelich was called to be a potential juror in a Summit County trial, she thought she had done everything she was supposed to do.

She filled out a questionnaire and followed the instructions on a yellow card included in her summons, which told her to call the courts the day before the trial. A recording said the proceeding had been canceled, so she didn’t go to the courthouse the following day.

“Next thing I know,” she said Thursday, “I’m getting a subpoena for my own showing as a defendant.”

The Park City resident was one of 36 jurors who were given a notice ordering them to go before a judge Thursday and explain why they didn’t show up for jury duty in December.

Their absence had left a jury pool too small to pick from and forced a mistrial in the case of three men who are accused of gang-raping a 9-year-old girl at a Uintah County home in 2016.

Froelich was one of 29 residents who came to court Thursday to explain why they didn’t come to court — and one of 17 who said clerical errors were to blame.

Sixteen others told 3rd District Judge Kent Holmberg that though they filled out a jury questionnaire, they did not remember receiving the yellow card with instructions. When no further instructions came, they assumed that they had not been chosen as jurors.

“I truly believe in the jury thing,” one man told Holmberg. “I don’t know what happened to the yellow card. I was shocked when I got this thing on the garage door saying I had to appear” in court.

Two reported that they were ill that day, while a handful said they either did not live in Summit County or were not U.S. citizens. Four others said they were confused by the instructions or had made a mistake.

“I just feel horrible that I’m wasting the court’s time and that it happened,” said one woman who did not read the instruction about calling the courts to verify that she was supposed to come to court.

Holmberg ordered that woman and seven others complete eight hours of community service. He excused most without penalty. Others were excused from coming to the hearing, though bench warrants were ordered for two others who did not show up Thursday.

The judge did not scold those who came to court Thursday for missing jury duty. Instead, he emphasized the importance of the jury system.

Geoffrey Fattah, state courts spokesman, said after the hearing that Holmberg and his clerks checked their processes, including how the juror packets were put together. He said they don’t believe there was instructions missing from the materials sent to jurors.

“Although we [would] like to believe the individuals that told the judge they didn’t get a yellow card,” he said, “we’re fairly certain that yellow cards were included in all the packets.”

The trial at the center of the juror issue has been rescheduled for May. Three men — Larson Rondeau, 38, Jerry Flatlip, 31, and Randall Flatlip, 27 — face charges of rape of a child and sodomy upon a child on allegations that they held down and raped the girl in a home in Vernal when her mother went to the garage to smoke methamphetamine.

The case was originally filed in Vernal, but it was moved to Summit County after a judge ruled that the trio wouldn’t get a fair trial in Uintah County. The new trial is set to be heard in Salt Lake County.