Mistrial in murder-for-hire case
A mistrial was declared Thursday in the trial of a 19-year-old man in an alleged murder-for-hire plot prosecutors say was hatched by the...
Seattle Times staff reporters
A mistrial was declared Thursday in the trial of a 19-year-old man in an alleged murder-for-hire plot prosecutors say was hatched by the victim's wife and made to look like a carjacking.
King County Superior County Judge Steven Gonzalez declared the mistrial after jurors told him they were hopelessly deadlocked 9-3 in favor of acquittal for Wilson Sayachack. The jury had been deliberating since Monday morning.
Juror Jeff Kaufhold, who sided with the minority, later said most jurors felt "there were a lot of gaps in the evidence."
During Sayachack's trial, jurors were not allowed to hear about a statement Sayachack made to police in which he said he had accepted $1,000 to shoot Ronald Whitehead, 61. The confession was suppressed when Gonzalez found that detectives had violated the teen's right to remain silent by interrogating him after he told them he did not wish to speak.
Whitehead, a career Boeing employee, was driving to work from his Des Moines home March 18, 2005, when he was shot four times at the intersection of South 188th Street and Eighth Avenue South. His body was pushed into the road from the car. Whitehead's Ford Mustang was found two days later a few miles away.
It initially appeared that Whitehead had died in a random carjacking, according to the King County Sheriff's Office.
But police were puzzled because Whitehead's wallet was not taken, indicating that robbery was not a motive. They began digging into the life of his widow, Velma Ogden-Whitehead, according to court documents.
Ogden-Whitehead — who gave numerous media interviews after her husband's death, begging for information and accepting reward donations — received at least $1 million in cash, property and benefits after Whitehead's death, police said.
Police spent more than a year examining the finances and a marital affair of Ogden-Whitehead, 49, before arresting her, her teenage son, Jon Ogden, and Sayachack, her son's friend.
Prosecutors said Ogden-Whitehead paid Sayachack $1,000 to hide in the trunk of her husband's car while her son rode shotgun the morning of Whitehead's slaying. Sayachack was to climb from his hiding place en route, kill Whitehead and make it look like a carjacking, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors told jurors that Sayachack's palm print had been found inside Whitehead's trunk but could not prove that the print could have been left there only during the murder.
Defense attorney Veronica Freitas had argued that Sayachack and the victim shared a love of engines and cars and that the print could have been left sometime earlier.
"The palm print was significant," said the jury foreman, who declined to give his name but said he had favored acquittal. "But it was difficult to pinpoint when it was put there."
Prosecutors said the split favoring acquittal was significant and they have not decided whether they will retry the case.
The mistrial will not affect the cases against Ogden-Whitehead or her son, said deputy prosecutor Carla Carlstrom. Ogden-Whitehead is to go to trial on a charge of first-degree murder in May. Her son, now 19, is also charged with first-degree murder and is scheduled to face trial April 14.
Carlstrom said the two other defendants have made incriminating statements that have been ruled admissible in court.
Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or email@example.com
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