The trial of Matthew Townsend, who is accused of felony witness intimidation after posting angry comments on Facebook — and tagging the police department and several family members of an officer — ended soon after it started Tuesday.
The Meridian man faces up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine on the charge. An Ada County jury was seated Tuesday morning, and opening statements began just after 1 p.m. The trial endedly abruptly about 15 minutes later.
Fourth District Court Judge Lynn G. Norton declared a mistrial due to information disclosed during the defense’s opening statements. Defense attorney Aaron Tribble told the jury that Townsend is “facing a felony charge,” according to court records.
“The jury is not to consider punishment,” Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jim Vogt told Judge Norton. He argued that the jury pool was poisoned by having that information presented to them.
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Tribble told the judge he didn’t think he had prejudiced the jury. He said many had probably deduced it because they sat 12 jurors for the trial.
Judge Norton said that it was not mentioned in the jury instruction or in the reading of the charges because “it’s not before the jury.” She set a new trial for Feb. 29. It is expected to take three days.
In March last year, Townsend complained on Facebook about being arrested for misdemeanor resisting and obstructing after he walked away from a police officer who said he’d broken the law when crossing the street. Townsend was involved in a public protest of taxes when he encountered the officer.
Tribble said the only thing that his client was threatening in the March Facebook post was protest.
“You have a right to complain about public officials when you think they’re doing something wrong or corrupt,” Tribble told the Statesman in May.