Supreme Court orders new trial for Williston man convicted of GSI

The State Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for a 61-year-old Williston man who was convicted last year of sexually assaulting a girl on different occasions in Mountrail County in 2012 when she was 10 and 11 years old.

A jury found Clyde Edward Pickens guilty of two counts of Class AA felony gross sexual imposition and one count of Class A felony gross sexual imposition. North Central District Court Judge Todd Cresap sentenced him to 20 years in prison, with 10 years suspended.

Pickens had appealed to the North Dakota Supreme Court, which ruled on Tuesday that Cresap erred in its response to jury requests during the deliberations. The jury asked for transcripts of testimony, which were unavailable. Pickens’ lawyer suggested providing them with audiotape of the testimony, but Cresap refused and told the jury in writing they would have to rely on their memory of the testimony. The jury also requested to see the video interview of the victim, which Cresap allowed over the objections of the defense. He suggested a clerk play the video for the jury in the jury room.

The Supreme Court said in their opinion that Cresap should have called the jury into open court and informed them that audio of the testimony was available.

“We are concerned by the district court’s decision to allow a clerk to present evidence to the jury during its deliberations,” wrote the Supreme Court in its decision. “Under (state law), the court may order persons to have communications with the jury. That part of the statute is not for the purpose of allowing a third person to display evidence to the jury during its deliberations … Allowing another person into the jury room to display evidence may influence the jury’s decision in unexpected ways not preserved in the record. This type of interaction raises potentially serious concerns about the privacy and integrity of jury deliberations.

“No record exists of any communication that may have occurred between the clerk and the jury outside of Pickens’ presence. The district court also gave the clerk authority to play the audio interview of M.R., C.R., and D.R. if the jury requested it. The court ordered the clerk not to engage with the jury, but some engagement would have been necessary if the jury asked for portions of the video to be replayed or requested the clerk to play the audio interview. The record is silent as to what specific evidence the clerk presented to the jury.”