The V.I. Supreme Court ruled Friday the retrial of Rodney Miller Sr., Amos Carty Jr. and Peter Najawicz for allegedly defrauding Schneider Regional Medical Center of millions of dollars may proceed and is not double jeopardy
The trio has been charged with multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy for purportedly helping one another defraud the hospital of millions of dollars by, among other things, awarding each other lavish pay and benefits packages without the approval of the hospital’s governing board.
When they were initially tried in May and June 2011, the government contended that, while the official government salaries for the group ranged from $150,000 to $80,000, the trio was able to pull in much more and used their top positions to siphon large sums of money from the hospital’s accounts to their own personal accounts.
Prosecutors alleged Miller racked up almost $3.8 million by the end of his five years at the hospital, while Carty and Najawicz, who are accused of approving and making the payments, regularly received thousands more than the $80,000 salaries listed in their government payroll documents.
The core of the case were two 2005 employment agreements for Miller – one that reflected the $150,000 salary listed on his Notice of Personal Action, which reflect what an employees’ position is and how much they are paid, and another that contained hundreds of thousands more in extra benefits that prosecutors argued Carty added without informing the hospital board.
Jurors deliberated for nearly a week after the trial and twice sent notes to V.I. Superior Court Judge Michael Dunston saying they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on any of the 44 charges facing the three men. Dunston declared a mistrial June 24, 2011.
In the intervening year, Najawicz filed a motion in Superior Court for a judgment of acquittal, on the grounds of double jeopardy – the provision in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution preventing a person from being tried twice for the same crime.
When a mistrial is made necessary by a deadlocked jury or other insoluble barrier to a valid verdict, it does not prevent a retrial, because the first trial is essentially wiped away. But Najawicz’s attorneys argued the mistrial was not "manifestly necessary," the court-established legal threshold for whether a new trial constitutes double jeopardy.
In September, Dunston denied Najawicz’s motion.
"Given that there was manifest necessity to declare a mistrial, defendant may be retried without violating the double jeopardy clause," Dunston wrote in his opinion.
Najawicz appealed Dunston’s ruling to the V.I. Supreme Court in October 2012 and the court issued an order staying proceedings against Najawicz pending its decision.
The opinion, signed by Chief Justice Rhys Hodge on behalf of the entire court, concludes Dunston’s decision to declare a mistrial met the established legal standard of "manifest necessity," even though Najawicz’s attorney objected to a mistrial at the time.
The Supreme Court determined Najawicz had acknowledged the jury to be deadlocked, opposed any measures to help the jury reach a verdict, and then opposed declaring a mistrial, thus setting up a situation in which he could object to all possible outcomes.
Hodge wrote the court "cannot discern how Najawicz’s adamant characterization of the jury as “hopelessly deadlocked” can in any way be reconciled with simultaneously opposing both a mistrial and the giving of any additional instructions, since declaring a mistrial or issuing supplemental instructions are the two actions a trial court traditionally employs when faced with a hopelessly deadlocked jury."
Hodge wrote this put the trial court in "the position of being "whip-sawed,"" so that no action is acceptable to the defendant.
"In the event the jury arrived at a guilty verdict after the supplemental instruction, Najawicz would argue on appeal—as he did at the sidebar conference—that the jury had spoken “inartfully” through the non-unanimous verdict forms and had, in fact, been “hopelessly deadlocked,” … with the supplemental instruction coercing it into convicting him. Conversely, if the judge agreed with Najawicz that the jury was hopelessly deadlocked and declared a mistrial at that point, or if—as actually occurred—the jury still failed to reach a verdict after being given the instruction, Najawicz would – as he does now – argue that a mistrial was declared in the absence of manifest necessity and over his objection."
The decision upholds the trial court’s September 2012 decision to declare a mistrial and permits the V.I. Government to retry the trio.