Juror in Durham 'sleepwalking' murder trial: 'I didn't believe one word out of that man's mouth'

DURHAM (WTVD) -- The day after a shocking verdict in the Joseph Mitchell trial, jurors are speaking out about their decision to acquit a Durham father of first-degree murder in the death of his 4-year-old son.

"If manslaughter had been an option that's what we would've done," one juror who asked to remain anonymous told ABC11.

"We weren't thinking that he should get away with it by any means, and none of us wanted to do that, they explained. "But, we were tasked with following the law and the law said first-degree murder and second-degree murder. They had to prove malice and intent and they just failed to do it."

The juror said the group of nine women and three men felt their hands were tied. At one point, they were nearly a hung jury, according to the anonymous juror.

The jury found 50-year-old Joseph Mitchell not guilty of first-degree murder Wednesday afternoon in what was called the "sleepwalking" murder trial. He was also found not guilty of two counts of attempted murder.

Mitchell claimed he was sleepwalking when he smothered his 4-year-old son and attacked two other children in September 2010.

Mitchell's defense team called mental health experts to testify in the case that Mitchell was suffering from stress and lack of sleep which caused him to sleepwalk. He claimed to have no recollection of the attack when he took the stand in his own defense.

"I didn't believe one word out of that man's mouth," said one juror.

The prosecution painted Mitchell as a desperate father facing foreclosure who was capable of killing his son because of it.

After the verdict was read, Christine Perolini, Mitchell's ex-wife, exclaimed in the courtroom, "I failed. I couldn't save him [my son]." She later was wheeled out of the courthouse on a stretcher.

Following the verdict, District Attorney Roger Echol spoke to ABC11.

"I would like to think that every prosecutor who decides to indict and or prosecute a defendant believes that defendant is guilty. Nothing in the trial changed my opinion. However, I respect the process and understand there are no guarantees. I respect the jury's verdict as well," said Echols. "I'm disappointed. A four-year-old was killed and two children were attacked so the decision to prosecute the case and try it was warranted in my opinion."

ABC11 also asked Echols about the jury's question early on about whether manslaughter was an option. The defense had asked for involuntary manslaughter, but the state objected.

"Voluntary Manslaughter was not appropriate to give to the jury as an option and neither side asked for it. Involuntary manslaughter was asked for by the defendant and I objected because I didn't think it was appropriate because the instruction for automatism says that the defendant is not guilty of any offense if he/she was unconscious," said Echols.

Just before 6 p.m., Mitchell was seen leaving the jail as a free man where he had spent four years in custody.

"Joe had absolutely no malice toward his children," said defense attorney Jay Ferguson, adding that all of the charges required malicious intent and that the most impactful evidence in the case came from character witnesses and Mitchell's medical records. "The people that are asking questions about how could this [verdict] happen didn't hear the evidence."

Ferguson said his greatest challenge was trying to overcome the jury's perception that someone would have to pay for Blake Mitchell's tragic murder. He says it is the reason why he requested involuntary manslaughter be added to the jury instructions in the event the jurors were committed to convicting Mitchell.

The acquittal for Mitchell is bittersweet, according to his attorney.

"We don't know what's next for Joe," said Ferguson. "He left the jail yesterday literally with clothes in a bag. He has no money, no identification, no housing. He has to start rebuilding his life."

Ferguson added that Mitchell would like to reunite with his wife and surviving children.

No word on whether they'll seek civil action against him on behalf of his teenage son and daughter. The statute of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of his youngest son has expired.

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