No oral arguments are scheduled for the appeal of a man convicted in August 2020 of manslaughter.
Justin Crites, 28, was sentenced to serve three years in prison in the death of Jay LePage in May 2019 outside a Williston bar. Police and prosecutors said Crites hit LePage during an argument, causing LePage to hit his head, an injury that would prove fatal days later.
In his appeal, attorneys for Crites argued first there wasn’t enough evidence to support a conviction and second, the court should have approved two different requests for a mistrial.
During the trial, attorneys for Crites questioned whether Brittany Myers, the witness who said she saw Crites punch LePage, could have seen what she did. But, prosecutors, said, a close examination of evidence supported her story.
“At trial, Crites attempted to claim that Officer Haggerty could not have seen what she claimed to have seen with regard to the position of LePage,” Nathan Madden, assistant state’s attorney for Williams County, wrote. “The dash camera video showed LePage in the position where Meyers had stated she saw him fall along with the other distinguishing features of the crime scene as described by Meyers. The dash camera video also showed that Officer Haggerty’s statements regarding what she observed on arrival match what was visible in the area.”
Another issue was the question of whether a live stream of the trial had tainted a witness or the jury.
During the trial, a potential prosecution witness told the court that he had seen video playing on a phone left in the hallway outside the courtroom. The video came from Williston Trending Topics News Radio. No sound was audible, but Crites’ attorney argued it could have been heard if someone had turned up the volume.
“The Court was not persuaded that there was a meaningful violation of the sequestration order, as there was no sound to the video and there was no indication a juror actually saw the video,” Crites’ attorney wrote.
The court also denied a motion for a mistrial after a reference to the OJ Simpson trial. In his response, Madden questioned this motion.
“According to Crites, the reference to the significantly long jury sequestration order in the O.J. Simpson trial (which resulted in an acquittal for Simpson) somehow translated into the District Court interjecting race into the mix at trial,” Madden wrote. “Crites cited no legal authority below, and cites no legal authority to this Court concerning this assertion. Not only does Crites fail to provide any legal support, he also ignores critical differences between the Simpson trial and his own; Meyers saw Crites deliver the killing blow and other information such as Crites’ interview where Crites admitted to taking some preparations such as removing his easily identifiable ‘cut’ prior to the encounter that he knew was coming with the LePages.”
Because oral arguments were waived, the state Supreme Court will rule based on the filings.