Last year, an investigator for Uintah County prosecutors was accused of breaking the law when he chit-chatted with potential jurors in a high-profile case.
Jayson Chamberlain was charged with a felony, for attempting to tamper with jurors, that could have put him behind bars for up to five years.
But after deliberating for a just a few minutes Wednesday, a Utah jury acquitted him.
"I think Jayson Chamberlain shouldn't have been charged in this case," defense attorney Edward Brass said Wednesday. "I'm delighted with the outcome. He's a very good person, a very kind man, who is looking forward to going back to work."
Brass said jurors told him after they reached their verdict that it only took them about two minutes to make the decision. Brass, who has worked in criminal defense law for more than 40 years, said it was the fastest jury deliberation he’s had.
The charge stems from Chamberlain’s conversations with potential jurors who had gathered at the Silver Summit Courthouse in Summit County on Dec. 12, 2017 at the beginning of a trial for three men accused of raping a 9-year-old girl in Vernal in 2016. (The men would later be acquitted.)
Chamberlain, an investigator with the Uintah County attorney’s office, talked to many of them about his family, life in Roosevelt and spoke highly of the prosecutors he worked with. He talked about how he was working on the case the jurors were there to hear.
Brass argued that his client talked to everyone who was waiting outside the courtroom that day — not just the potential jurors — and he was just making small talk, not trying to influence jurors who might hear the case.
"He absolutely talked to people," Brass said. "He was out there for 11 hours. The testimony was that he was given no instruction as to how he was to conduct himself. He's just a nice friendly guy."
Summit County prosecutors alleged Chamberlain broke the law when he asked the potential jurors about their value system, family situation and whether or not they wanted to be on a jury and why. This was information that could have helped the prosecution team in selecting a jury, according to charges.
Authorities began investigating after one of the potential jurors — who is an attorney and works as a clerk in federal bankruptcy court — became concerned with Chamberlain’s conversations with him and other jurors.
Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson said Thursday that the case was then investigated by the Utah Department of Public Safety and the FBI before it was screened by her office for charges.
“After a careful review, the case was filed,” she wrote in an email. "We believe charges were appropriately filed. Several other witnesses from [the] jury pool that day testified. It is our duty to uphold the integrity of our system of justice. The jury decided not to convict, and — consistently with our respect for our system — we accept that decision.”
Chamberlain was allowed to stay on the county payroll while the case was pending, but he did other work — like digging graves over the winter — instead of investigating cases.
Brass said with the trial behind him, Chamberlain is ready to get back to his regular job, which includes not just investigative tasks but also working with defendants in drug court.
Uintah County Attorney Greg Lamb said Wednesday that he is “very happy” for Chamberlain and confirmed he’ll be back at his investigative job soon.
A judge ultimately declared a mistrial in the case where Chamberlain was accused of witness tampering — not because of anything Chamberlain did, but because too few people showed up for jury duty.
The trial was moved to Salt Lake City, and jurors there found the men not guilty of all charges.