GALVESTON — The trial of a man accused of keeping his son locked in an 8-foot-by-6-foot particleboard box at a Galveston home ended in a mistrial Thursday.
District Judge Lonnie Cox granted the defense’s motion for a mistrial after Judge Michelle Slaughter was recused from the case for posting about the trial on a public Facebook page.
Slaughter was recused from the case of David Wieseckel, 44, on the third day of the trial, when jurors had heard a little more than a day’s worth of testimony.
Cox, who was appointed to preside over the case, said starting the trial over would harm neither the prosecution nor defense in the case.
Prosecutor Adam Poole said a new trial date would be months away.
Attorney Nicholas Poehl, who is representing Wieseckel, said Cox made the right decision in granting the motion for a mistrial.
Poehl called for a mistrial after seeing posts on Slaughter’s Facebook page referring to the case, including a post that linked to a news story on the trial. Slaughter also described the box being constructed in her courtroom before the structure was admitted into evidence or shown to the jury.
Slaughter would have assessed punishment for Wieseckel if he had been found guilty by the jury. The judge was essentially in the role of a juror, according to the motion for mistrial.
In court instructions, Slaughter had urged jurors to “not post anything on Facebook or other social media about this case until I release you from this instruction” and to “not do any research on your own into this case.”
According to the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, “a judge shall abstain from public comment about a pending or impending proceeding which may come before the judge’s court in a manner which suggests to a reasonable person the judge’s probable decision on any particular case.”
Cox delivered the “good news and bad news” to inform jurors they were discharged from the trial.
Wieseckel was arrested with his wife, Linda Schwan, 50, on charges of injury to a child and unlawful restraint of a child.
Schwan’s case is in Slaughter’s court. Attorney Julia Hatcher, who is representing Schwan, said she intended to ask that Slaughter recuse herself from the case.
Slaughter issued a statement Wednesday about her posts on social media.
“In an effort to provide governmental transparency, I made statements on my Facebook page that were readily available to any member of the public who was present in the courtroom,” she said.
Slaughter continued to write on her Facebook page Thursday.
“Something many people don’t understand is that in a jury trial, judges are not in the same role as jurors,” she wrote. “Judges see and hear everything and decide what gets to go to the jury for their decision.”
In another post, Slaughter asked her followers to “continue to demand governmental transparency at all levels.”