Sarah Ann Ottens Murdered, Morrison, Illinois, Carrol Daily Times Herald (Carroll, Iowa), 12 Novembe
Charged in U.I. Coed's Slaying Court Upholds Hall's Murder Conviction DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The second-degree murder conviction of James Hall in the dormitory slaying of a University of Iowa coed in 1973 was upheld by the Iowa Supreme Court Wednesday. The court said, however, that Hall's attorneys must be given an opportunity to examine transcripts of the grand jury proceedings which resulted in Hall's indictment. It said that if the inspection discloses any exculpatory evidence that was suppressed, a new trial will be granted. Hall's attorneys, in appealing his 50-year prison sentence, claimed more than 40 errors were made during the trial, including what they said was the fact that jurors drank alcoholic beverages before convicting Hall. Hall, then 20 years old, was convicted May 24, 1974, in the strangulation slaying of Sarah Ann Ottens, 20, a student from Morrison, 111. Her body was found March 13, 1973, in her Rienow Hall dormitory room. Hall, of Toledo, Ohio, who enrolled at University of Iowa to play football, has been free on $50,000 bond while his appeal was pending. His attorneys argued before the court that the drinking of alcoholic beverages before convicting Hall was sufficient reason to overturn the verdict. They also argued the evidence against Hall was inconclusive and should have been thrown out before it reached the jury. The evidence included a fingerprint identified as Hall's, which was found on a faucet in the room where Miss Ottens was killed and two hair samples. Expert witnesses for the state said one hair sample taken from Miss Ottens' blouse was "consistent with" Hall's hair. They said another'hair found on a tennis shoe in Hall's room was "consistent with" Miss Ottens' hair. Hall's attorneys in their appeal cited alleged irregularities in grand jury proceedings and charged the state's special prosecutor, Gary Woodward, with misconduct. They also contended trial judge Louis Schultz erred in refusing to order the prosecution to produce certain evidence and made numerous errors in his rulings during the trial and his instructions to the jury. In the 54-page unanimous opinion, Justice Clay LeGrand agreed that Woodward's conduct before the grand jury "exceeded the bounds of propriety" but said that did not affect Hall's right to trial. Regarding the jury's drinking, Justice LeGrand observed that eight of the jurors reportedly had a cocktail at dinner before returning the verdict. There was a time, LeGrand said, the mere fact that jurors had consumed intoxicants would have required a new trial without a showing of prejudice. But later cases, he said, demand proof of prejudice before a verdict is set aside on such grounds. "There is no claim that any juror was intoxicated," the opinion said. "Defendant relies solely on the fact of drinking rather than prejudice resulting therefrom. "It is indeed unfortunate that this incident occurred. It would be far better if jurors conscientiously avoided the use of intoxicants while serving as jurors. Such conduct can only raise uncertainty in a defendant's mind as to the jury deliberations which resulted in his conviction. "On the other hand, the controlling test is whether defendant was denied a fair trial. If a juror's judgement is affected by alcohol during consideration of a case, the result should not stand. No such showing was made here, nor is any asserted. "We unequivocally condemn drinking of alcoholic liquor by jurors while a case is under their consideration. It amounts to jury misconduct. "However, we can not say the injestion of a single cocktail by each of eight jurors before or with their dinner approximately three hours before they reached a verdict had any influence, however remote, on the result." The high court expressed "unqualified disapproval" of Woodward's conduct before the grand jury. It said Woodward "presented a considerable mass of evidence which had no proper place in the grand jury's investigation" and made frequent statements which were "improper and violative of his obligation to present the matter impartially and with no attempt to influence the action of the grand jury." But none of this affected Hall's constitutional rights, the opinion said, because none>of those facts was made known to the jury which convicted Hall. "It is not the misconduct which entitles defendant to relief, it is the prejudice which results therefrom, making it impossible for defendant to have a fair trial."