After four hours of weighing the evidence, a jury couldn’t agree on Jacqueline Wilk’s fate.
The inability to reach a unanimous verdict forced St. Joseph County Judge John Marnocha to declare a mistrial. And it was tough to tell whether tears in the eyes of Jacqueline Wilk and her parents were those of relief, agony or a little of both when that decision came at 6 pm and they left the courthouse hand-in-hand.
The prosecutor charged Wilk with two counts of felony neglect of a dependent after her two and four-year-old boys locked themselves in the trunk of her hot car on a hot day in June 2011. The air temperature at the time it happened was in the mid 80s. Both boys died.
Thursday night, one juror said the twelve were basically split down the middle – half of them thought Wilk should be convicted and the other half didn’t believe she should be held criminally responsible for the deaths of her sons.
“I won’t say it got ugly but it was heated a little bit,” said Victoria Barhydt, juror # 10.
At just 18 years old, Barhydt was the youngest juror in Wilk’s trial. The most difficult part for her, she said, was proving Wilk knew she put her kids in a dangerous situation when they slipped out of the house she and the kids shared with her parents and crawled into the trunk of her 2000 Chevy Malibu.
“We don’t know what she thinks. We can’t get inside her head so the only thing we have is the evidence, you know? We have to go by that and what she said,” Barhydt added.
“I can say it was emotional, it was trying, it was very difficult. This is not easy,” said fellow juror Rosalind Cutts.
Barhydt, Cutts and fellow jurors listened to a taped statement Wilk gave a detective four days after finding her boys trapped in the trunk. During that interview, she said they’d played in the car 20 or 30 times before and in the trunk at least 10 times before.
But on the witness stand she and her parents testified the boys never played in the car unsupervised and never played in the trunk.
That conflicting evidence weighed heavy for some jurors.
“I don’t think she’s a bad mom, I don’t think she’s a bad person,” Barhydt said. “I think it was just a freak accident that happened.”
But that’s where the jury split. Was it a tragic accident or did Jacqueline Wilk neglect her kids?
“We were given the opportunity to judge,” Cutts said. “And when you have different people, everyone’s not going to think alike and it is what it is.”
And it’s not over for Wilk and her family.
“A lot of people have been very supportive of us. We're thankful for that,” said Wilk’s mother, Nancy Young, after the judge declared the mistrial.
The state could retry Wilk in the future on the same neglect charges but it could also dismiss both charges against her.
“We are reviewing the evidence and also our efforts of presentation in the trial in determining whether to retry this case or not,” said a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office. “We will be advising the court of our decision at the status hearing on February 25th.”