A mistrial declared last week by a Chester County Court judge sparked debate today about whether the defendant, Morgan M. Mengel, should be re-tried.
A week ago, Senior Judge Thomas G. Gavin said a witness' recounting of a derogatory comment made about the defendant by her father would likely prevent her from getting a fair trial. Mengel, a 36-year-old West Goshen Township mother of three, is accused of conspiring with her lover, Stephen Shappell, 22, of Broomall, to kill her husband, Kevin Mengel Jr., 33, on June 17, 2010.
During the trial, a prosecutor elicited testimony from a West Goshen police officer, who said that while investigating the case, he met with Mengel's father, who reportedly said his daughter "could be despicable." After defense attorney Jack McMahon objected, the judge instructed the jury to disregard the remark as inadmissible hearsay. Later, McMahon argued that the jury was irrevocably tainted, and Gavin agreed, declaring a mistrial.
Today, McMahon argued that the remark amounted to intentional prosecutorial misconduct. Eliciting a comment designed to deprive the defendant of a fair trial should bar further prosecution based on double jeopardy, McMahon said. But Chief Deputy District Attorney Nick Cassenta strongly disagreed, and he called the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Deborah Ryan, to testify. She explained why she thought the comment was admissible as "an excited utterance." The judge, who previously commended Ryan for her honesty and said he did not believe prosecutorial misconduct occurred, said he would issue a ruling by mid-March.