After more than half a year, a district court judge has denied Scott L. Gollaher’s motion for a new trial.
Gollaher was found guilty of four counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child in January of 2016 after a rare Morgan County jury trial. In March of 2016, Judge Noel Hyde sentenced Gollaher to a minimum of 30 years in state prison.
Gollaher filed for a new trial on July 22, 2016. The court heard oral arguments on the motion on Sept. 21, 2016, narrowing Gollaher’s request for relief surrounding 64 issues to only one: the use of alternate jurors after they had been dismissed. Both the plaintiff and defendant prepared briefs about the juror issue, and the court again hear oral arguments from each side on Dec. 14, 2016.
In the January 2016 trial, two of the 10 jurors were released after being identified as alternates. The remaining eight jurors deliberated for hours until it was determined two of them had had a hard time hearing the victim’s testimonies on the first day of the trial. Sound system technical difficulties plagued the four-day trial that stretched from Jan. 8 to Jan. 27. Therefore, the two alternates were called back again hours later and started deliberations again from square one.
“On four occasions (during the trial), the court requested witnesses to speak up,” Gollaher said Dec. 14. “We know we have issues in this particular court, with the layout, etc. It is not an ideal layout for effective hearing.”
In a ruling issued Feb. 7, 2017, Judge Hyde said “the court undertook sufficient procedural safeguards to ensure that Defendant (Gollaher) was not prejudiced when the alternate jurors were recalled and joined in deliberations.” Hyde wrote that Gollaher “has not suffered any prejudice as a result of the recall and substitution of the alternate jurors.”
The judge considered both state and federal case law when ruling that the recalling of alternate jurors after deliberations commenced did not prejudice the defendant.
“There is no Utah case law addressing the issue,” Hyde wrote. “Notwithstanding the absence of Utah case law of the issue, other courts at both the federal and state level have addressed the question and determined that such substitutions may be appropriate even without authorization by rule.”
He said it is important that the alternate juror not discuss the case with anyone and had not been exposed to outside influences about the case after discharge. It is also important to tell the newly reconstituted jury they must disregard their previous deliberations and begin anew.
In the January 2016 trial, the judge addressed both these issues after recalling the alternates within 40 minutes of their discharge. The newly constituted jury deliberated for two hours before reaching a verdict.
“There is no evidence, based on the timing of deliberations both before and after recall, that the jury did not follow the court’s instruction to begin jury deliberations anew,” Hyde wrote.
In fact, neither the state nor the defendant objected to the newly constituted jury proceeding with their deliberations that night, Hyde noted.
“Defendant actively and affirmatively participated in such discussion, including making suggestions that were approved and adopted by the court,” Hyde wrote. “He stated no objection to the procedure and substance of the questioning (to ensure all jurors had the capacity and ability to fully and fairly consider all evidence), and no objection to proceeding with jury deliberations. Most importantly, he stated no objection to the alternate jurors replacing the disqualified jurors. By his words and affirmative actions Defendant waived any objection to the alternate jurors being recalled and placed in the newly-constituted jury, and simultaneously consented to having this newly called jury proceed with deliberation in this case.”
In the summer of 2012, Gollaher abused two 11-year-old girls at a home he was building on over 24 acres in Morgan County at 246 East Woods Creek Road. Gollaher previously served a 16-year sentence, from 1996 to 2011, for child sexual abuse. Upon his release, he was a registered sex offender in Salt Lake County. Since he did not yet reside in the Porterville home in 2012—only recreated there on the weekends—he was not registered in Morgan County as a sex offender. Both girls were not residents of Morgan County.
“(Gollaher) says his rights were violated,” said Dean Saunders, who helped prosecute the case. “We believe the court protected his rights. All required steps were taken and the defendant suffered no prejudice. Just because (jury members) believed the victims, not him, does not mean his rights were violated,” Sanders said on Dec. 14.
The Feb. 7 decision denying a new trial was sent to Gollaher, who resides in the State Prison in Draper.