Jury fails to bring verdict in Saeli case

Samuel Saeli

MAYVILLE — A jury deliberated nearly eight hours during a two-day span, but couldn’t unite to hand a verdict in the Samuel Saeli kidnapping case.

A mistrial was granted by the Hon. Paul Wojtaszek just after 2 p.m. Friday following a note he received from the jury, which stated they were deadlocked and wouldn’t be able to come to a verdict. The judge called jurors into the courtroom and subsequently relieved them of their duties.

Jurors deliberated for close to four hours beginning Thursday afternoon. They came back Friday morning to resume deliberations.

In that time, the jury sent eight notes to Wojtaszek regarding issues as well as information they needed to hear again. Some of the requests included the reading of the indictment, legal definitions to words and the replaying of a jail call. Jurors came back into the courtroom to hear the information they requested.

With the jury hung, a new trial will take place with a new pool of jury candidates. A new trial date has not been set.

The prosecution and defense will meet with the judge next week to discuss the matter.

Saeli, a Dunkirk resident, is still facing a second-degree kidnapping charge, which carries a maximum 25-year sentence, and a sexual motivated felony. He’s accused of kidnapping a 13-year-old autistic boy from the Fredonia Walmart Aug. 14, 2016. The boy, who entered the store with his family, was located more than 40 minutes later on Cushing Street in Fredonia.

Several members of the jury were reportedly having a hard time coming to a consensus with others. A few jurors were noticeably emotional during the deliberation process, including one who left the deliberation room Friday afternoon. The juror returned to the room minutes after speaking with court staff.

District Attorney Patrick Swanson told the OBSERVER following the mistrial that he expects the case will be tried in court again. Swanson said his team feels strongly about the case. First Assistant District Attorney Andrew Molitor presented the case.

“Anytime you resolve in a hung jury, you wish they could have reached a conclusion,” Swanson said. “Our jury system requires unanimous verdict one way or the other. When you have a disagreement in that jury room, this is what you end up with and you go back and start all over.”

Evidence presented by the prosecution to the jury included store footage allegedly showing Saeli leaving and going to his car with the boy. Video also showed an encounter between Saeli and the boy at the toy aisle before they left.

Prosecutors brought several Fredonia police officers and state forensic experts to testify regarding a sexual evidence kit that contained evidence gathered from the boy. Prosecutors believe Saeli kidnapped the boy for sexual gratification.

Andrew Brautigam, defense counsel, said the jury did its job deliberating, but the prosecution wasn’t able to prove to jurors its case beyond reasonable doubt.

“I think in some ways the right thing happened and the jury did their job and deliberated long and hard,” Brautigam said. “I don’t have any real doubts about how it will come out if we do it again.”

The jury comprised of five men and seven women. A majority of the jurors were older in age.

Before the mistrial, Brautigam asked the judge to dismiss the charges. The judge subsequently denied the request.

Saeli remains incarcerated in the Chautauqua County Jail. Brautigam requested the judge set bail so his client could be released from incarceration. The judge denied changing bail that’s set at $300,000 cash or $600,000 property.