By definition, a hung jury leaves everyone hanging — and few people happy.
And so it went Tuesday as jurors declared themselves at a deadlock in the trial of former Ralston teacher Nicholas Richter.
Richter's attorneys, Joe Howard and Ashley Trankle, were disappointed they didn't get an acquittal on all four counts of sexual assault by touching.
Prosecutors were incredulous that they didn't get a conviction, and Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine vowed to retry Richter at a later date.
The alleged victims — four honors students, ages 10 to 12 — were faced with the prospect of having to testify again.
And even the jurors seemed dazed. Several refused to talk as they rushed out of the courthouse. The jury foreman let out a deep breath and declined to comment. “It wouldn't be wise,” he said. “It was very intense.”
But one juror — a middle-age woman — gave a glimpse into what she described as tense and, at times, tedious jury deliberations that had wild swings.
The jury of three men and nine women initially voted 10-2 to find the 59-year-old Richter guilty of all four counts.
But by the end, that tally had changed to four guilty, eight not guilty. Of note, all three men voted not guilty.
The female juror said she never swayed from her not-guilty vote because of one overriding question she couldn't answer: Were the touches for sexual gratification?
“We knew the touching was wrong,” she said, “but we couldn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Richter's intent was sexual.”
Others on the jury disagreed, questioning what else Richter's intent could have been.
The four boys took the stand and accused Richter of groping. Two testified he touched the their penises over their clothing more than 10 times over the course of two school years when they were at his desk in the front of the classroom.
One boy said Richter touched his penis over his clothing one time each in second, third and fourth grade. A fourth boy described Richter rubbing his buttocks more than 10 times.
Prosecutors tried to bolster their case with the testimony of a 40-year-old man who said Richter groped his buttocks while he was a fifth-grader at a Council Bluffs elementary school in the early 1980s.
However, the state's case wasn't without problems.
A Ralston police officer tried to record an interview with Richter, but the app on his phone failed to save it. Though Richter made no admissions during that interview, the failure to record it was a “dumb” move, the juror said.
Howard argued that the officer tainted the boys' accounts by suggesting to their parents that the boys had been molested.
The woman juror said tracking the case — and the subtle changes in the boys' stories from deposition to trial — was confusing.
Outside court, the juror had to stop as she tried to recount one victim's testimony, saying: “I can't keep 'em all straight.”
She said she came close to convicting Richter in connection with the second boy who took the stand. That boy broke down crying as he described Richter touching his penis outside his clothing for a couple of seconds on more than 10 occasions.
However, the woman said, prosecutors couldn't prove Richter's intent was sexual. She said she might have been convinced if the children had testified that they had been touched for longer periods of time and on multiple private parts.
During evening breaks in the weeklong trial, the woman said, she went as far as having her children sit on her lap to see if she accidentally brushed across their private areas. She also put her arm around them to see if she accidentally brushed across their private areas.
Her conclusion: Richter's touches could have been accidental.
“He's just a touchy guy,” she said.
Other jurors concluded that Richter was far too touchy. The split led to some heated moments in the jury room.
“We got in arguments, and we had to apologize to one another,” the juror said.
Lawyers on both sides were absorbing the news.
“Definitely mixed feelings,” Howard said. “I'm just kind of disappointed we may have to do this again. But we learned from it. So next time, our case is going to be stronger.”
Kleine, meanwhile, was meeting with his staff to review the trial. He said “it's unfortunate” the boys may have to go through “the trauma” of testifying again.
“That's our biggest concern,” he said. “A hung jury is a part of the process. When you have 12 (jurors) and you're detailing four different cases, sometimes it can get a little confusing. Whatever their hangup was, we'll regroup and be ready to try the case again.”
World-Herald staff writer Alissa Skelton contributed to this report.