Mistrial Ruled in Florida Guardian Case
September 27, 2022 Don Pumphrey, Jr. Criminal Defense, News & Announcements Social Share
A mistrial has been declared by the presiding judge of former guardian Rebecca Fierle’s criminal trial. The ruling came after the jury could not come to a unanimous verdict on the case, which revolves around the death of one of Fierle’s deceased clients, Steven Stryker.
We will cover the details of the trial, the characteristics of a mistrial, and what’s to come for Fierle.
During the Trial
Fierle previously declared herself not guilty of the aggravated abuse and neglect charges against her. During the trial, several witnesses took the stand and testified in defense of late client Steven Stryker. Witnesses claimed that Stryker was clear in his desire to stay alive and continue treatment, but Fierle took advantage of him and the healthcare system by signing a “do not resuscitate” (DNR) paper for the nurses.
The prosecution team accused Fierle of forcing the St. Joseph’s Hospital to cap off Stryker’s feeding tube, even though they received a warning that the patient could choke and die as a result. Stryker passed only five days after the tube was capped, from choking on his food.
Although there is proof of the DNR that Fierle signed, another judge had previously ruled to exclude the order from the trial. That means the jurors did not hear about that piece of information when it came time to deliberate the verdict.
Assistant Statewide Prosecutor Cass Castillo argued that Fierle would not allow the medical staff into the room where Stryker was kept. When she went to address the nurses afterward, Fierle told the staff that Stryker agreed with her decision to cap the feeding tube—which was supposedly the opposite of what the patient had told the staff.
“She abused him by depriving him of medical services,” Castillo said to the jury. “…This had nothing to do with the quality of life. They wanted to discharge—and so when they both got what they wanted, they signed off on it.”
However, the defense team argued that Fierle was not the one who personally capped Stryker’s feeding tube and that their client had no idea of the medical staff’s decisions leading up to Stryker’s death. Interestingly, there was no autopsy completed on Stryker. The doctor who signed off on the death certificate testified during the trial and said he could not say for certain what caused Stryker’s death.
There was an additional doctor who treated Stryker before his death, and he supposedly told Fierle that the patient had been taken into hospice care due to his worsening condition.
“All life is precious,” defense attorney Warren Lindsey said. “Mr. Stryker’s life was important and precious…but nevertheless, he had three to six months to live at the most.”
Over the course of two days, the jury spent around 12 hours deliberating the case. Finally, the six-person jury announced to Circuit Judge Samantha Ward that they were deadlocked and could not come to a unanimous verdict. As this is one of the reasons for a mistrial to occur, Judge Ward had no choice but to discharge the team of jurors.
“Please don’t feel like you have disappointed us or you’ve done something wrong,” Judge Ward told the jurors.
Yates declined to provide any comment regarding the mistrial and left the courtroom with his client. Fierle had no reaction to the outcome of the trial. As for the prosecution, Assistant Statewide Prosecutor Cass Castillo announced that the state has plans to try the case again for a second time.
What’s Next for Fierle
This is not the first time Fierle has been investigated. In fact, an audit by the Orange County Comptroller’s office found that Stryker was one of almost 700 patients who Fierle was caring for. AdventHealth was responsible for paying Fierle, along with assigning her potential patients.
Investigators found that Fierle often double-billed her clients for the same services, along with other questionable financial choices. Fierle allegedly billed AdventHealth nearly $4 million over the course of a decade—which was “virtually unheard of” in its industry. AdventHealth reacted by updating its policies to no longer allow the hospital to pay private guardians to take on clients.
In addition to the potential fraud, investigators also found the cremated remains of 10 people and one pet inside her office in Orlando. One of the family members of a past client told Orlando Sentinel that they have been fighting with Fierle for years to reunite the family with their loved one’s ashes.
The next hearing for Fierle’s case is set for October 11th, 2022. Judge Ward is required to preside over the second trial, as per the circuit’s administrative rules.
“If it’s hung in front of me, then I need to retry it,” Judge Ward said.
Mistrials in Florida
Errors during criminal trials can lead to mistrials, or trials that are not successfully completed. According to the American Bar Association, when a mistrial is declared it means that the trial is terminated and considered void before the jury is able to return a verdict. The following are reasons why a mistrial might occur:
- The death of an attorney, juror, or judge
- A key figure is no longer available
- Juror misconduct (having contact with one of the parties, considering evidence that was not present in the trial, or conducting an independent investigation)
- Improper practices were used to select the jury
- Evidence was presented that should not have been
- There was not a unanimous verdict from the jury
When a mistrial is called, it then prevents the defendant from receiving a guilty verdict. However, that does not necessarily mean that they have been declared innocent. The prosecution can call for a new trial and reinstate the charges. A new set of jurors would be picked, and the process would start again from the beginning. In some cases, the defense team can speak with the prosecution team to try and convince them that there is not enough evidence to retry the defendant once more. Working with a skilled Tallahassee, FL defense attorney is your best bet to feel confident during a trial and with managing a mistrial.
To find out more about the common reasons for a mistrial in Florida, read our page here.
Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida
Going to trial for a criminal charge is extremely stressful, and it can be difficult to navigate the legal world and processes on your own. If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, make it your top priority to work with an experienced defense attorney in your area. A skilled criminal defense attorney will strategize a strong defense for your case, and Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm intend to do just that. We vow to stand by your side and fight for your freedom. Call us for a free consultation today at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.
Written by Karissa Key