Judge Declares Mistrial in Case of Man Accused of Suffocating College Student in Her Dorm Room

Emanuella Grinberg, Court TV, October 24, 2007

A judge declared a mistrial Tuesday after jurors said they could not reach a verdict in the case of a man accused of killing a college student in her dorm room.

After 15 hours of deliberations over three days, the panel of two men and 10 women sent a note to the court indicating they were “hopelessly deadlocked” in the trial of former Eastern Michigan University student Orange Taylor III.

“Do you believe there is any possibility that you can reach a unanimous decision on one or all of these counts?” Washtenaw Circuit Court Judge Archie Brown asked the jury Tuesday afternoon.

“No, your honor,” said the female foreperson, evoking a broad smile from the defendant.

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The judge set Jan. 28, 2008, as Taylor’s new trial date. He remains in custody.

Washtenaw County prosecutors allege that Taylor, 21, broke into the dorm room of Dickinson, a first-year nutrition student, on the morning of Dec. 13, 2006, and suffocated her to death in a sexually motivated attack.

If convicted, Taylor would have faced life without parole on charges of murder, assault with attempted sexual penetration, home invasion and larceny for allegedly killing Dickinson, 22, and stealing a bag from her room that contained evidence.

Shortly after Brown declared the mistrial, one of two hold-out jurors told members of the press that she felt prosecutors had failed to prove that Taylor was in Dickinson’s room before she was killed.

Lauretta Codrington also said that the findings of medical examiner Bader Cassin, who testified that he could not conclusively state whether Dickinson was strangled to death or smothered with a pillow, left her questioning whether Dickinson was murdered or if she died of natural causes, as the defense suggested.

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Taylor’s lawyers did not dispute that he was in the room or that he left behind drops of semen on Dickinson’s body, which was found lying on the floor, nude from the waist down, with a pillow covering her head.

In remarks to the jury Friday, defense lawyer Alvin Keel said that Taylor masturbated on Dickinson when he discovered her body, but insisted that he was not involved in her death. Keel attributed Dickinson’s death to heart arrhythmia, a medical condition for which Dickinson was hospitalized in 2005.

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Taylor’s arrest made national headlines because the school told the community there was “no reason to suspect foul play” until he was taken into custody on Feb. 23, 2007.

An independent investigation into the school’s handling of public information related to the case found that administrators violated several clauses of the Cleary Law, which requires schools to inform the community of possible homicide investigations in a timely fashion.

Dickinson’s older brother said he was not surprised by the outcome, considering the “ultra liberal” posture that one of the female panelists displayed during jury selection.

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Dickinson [Josh Dickinson, 27] said that his family would approach Taylor’s retrial with cautious optimism for a guilty verdict, considering the close count in the deadlock.

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The defendant’s family sat through each day of the trial as witnesses recounted his misdeeds the night prosecutors believe Dickinson was killed. Security camera footage captured him prowling around the campus residences even though he was banned from them for breaking into students’ rooms, a fact the jury did not learn.

In a police interview played for jurors, Taylor admitted prowling around Dickinson’s dorm in search of burglary targets the morning in question after a night of smoking marijuana with his friends.

{snip}

[Editor’s Note: A detailed account of the EMU murder and the university’s actions can be read here.]

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