Jury Deadlocked and Unable to Reach Verdict
This is now the second time that a jury was unable to reach a verdict in the case of Austin Smith, charged with the New Year’s Day beating death of a Lansing man in 2012. Jurors deliberated for several days before announcing that they were completely deadlocked, resulting in a hung jury. Ingham County Circuit Judge Jim Jamo declared a mistrial.
This was the second time that Smith has stood trial for the death of 30 year old Travis Peterson, facing second-degree murder and assault charges. The jury was unable to reach a verdict in the first trial in 2012 either.
The only other person who faced charges in this case was Donald Suttle, 35, of Lansing. Suttle was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 33 to 50 years in prison by Ingham Circuit Judge Paula Manderfield. According to witnesses at the time, only Smith and Suttle used police style batons in the beating.
Both Smith and Suttle were bouncers at Brannigan Brother’s Bar at the time of the beating. Smith was also formerly a reserve officer with the Lake Odessa Police Department in Ionia County. Both men were part of a group of five that chased down and beat Travis Peterson on the sidewalk about a block from the tavern where the commotion began.
Witnesses to the event called the police, who found Peterson lying face down near Washington Square and West Allegan Street. He was severely beaten and bleeding from the head. He was hospitalized but died two days later of his injuries.
Both Smith and Suttle were initially charged with involuntary manslaughter, but were bound over to Ingham County Circuit Court on charges of second-degree murder by Lansing District Judge Charles Filice.
Smith’s lawyer, G. Michael Hocking, has stated throughout the trials that Smith punched Peterson once in the face, however he claimed it was after Peterson had tried to punch him first. He also said that Smith was defending a co-worker after Peterson head-butted them. According to Hocking, Smith claims to have been already walking away when Suttle started beating Peterson with a baton. Prosecutors, however, claim that Smith participated in “a continuing and escalating assault” that led to Peterson’s death.
Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III said that no decision has been made yet about whether or not to try the case a third time. But Hocking says that after two hung juries, he expects the charges to be dropped.