Judge declares mistrial on Mangum's felony arson charge

Staff writerDecember 17, 2010 

— Crystal Mangum, the accuser in the Duke lacrosse rape scandal, is free and will be reunited with her children after a jury deadlocked on the most serious charge she faced from a domestic incident earlier this year.

Superior Court Judge Abe Jones sentenced Mangum to 88 days in jail – time she already served awaiting her trial.

A 12-member jury found Mangum guilty of child abuse, injury to personal property and resisting a public officer, all misdemeanors. Under state sentencing guidelines, 90 days was the maximum sentence Jones could have ordered, but he decided she’d paid enough for her crimes.

The Durham County District Attorney’s office may or may not agree. Nine of 12 jurors thought Mangum was not guilty of first-degree arson, resulting in a hung jury and a mistrial. Prosecutor Mark McCullough said he’ll decide next month whether to retry her on that charge. In the meantime, Jones rewarded Mangum custody of her three children, which another judge had taken in August.

Questions the jury asked Jones during deliberations suggest the three dissenting jurors thought she was reckless in setting fire to a pile of her boyfriend’s clothing in their bathtub. That fire ended up charring the walls and ceiling of the bathroom, with Mangum’s three children and two police officers in the apartment.

On the way out of the courtroom Friday, Mangum declined to talk to reporters. Supporter Victoria Peterson reiterated the claim by the Friends of Crystal Mangum that authorities were punishing Mangum for accusing three Duke lacrosse players of rape four years ago. Mangum was retaliating against her boyfriend, Milton Walker, for allegedly punching her in the face, but Walker was never charged.

“It’s a victory,” Peterson said of the judge and jury’s decisions.

Over the past 10 months, Peterson and others have complained about Mangum’s treatment, which included an attempted murder charge, $1 million bond, the 88 days in jail and a no-contact order with her children.

“There did seem to be a lot of severe charges for what the evidence showed,” said jury forewoman Shauna Mitchell.

The trial began with Jones warning Jackie Wagstaff, a controversial former city councilwoman and school board member who supports Mangum, not to interfere with the proceedings; she had exchanged hellos with a potential juror. And it ended with Wagstaff jailed for 10 days for contempt of court Friday after she said, “This is ridiculous,” as Jones was sending the jury back to deliberate. Mangum’s attorney, Mani Dexter, had repeatedly asked Jones to declare a mistrial because the jury was split on the arson charge.

Wagstaff apologized and said she wasn’t talking about the judge’s instructions to the jury. But Jones said he didn’t believe her, and a bailiff testified Wagstaff and other Mangum supporters had been noisy and disruptive throughout the trial.

jesse.deconto@newsobserver.com or 919-932-8760

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