Blast Judge for Mistrial Decision in Grogan Case
Tuesday, August 31st, 1971
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 31 — Dist Atty. Joseph Busch hit out at Superior Court Judge Joseph L. Call yesterday for declaring a mistrial in the Steve Grogan murder case, denouncing the decision as “absurd” and an “outrageous abuse of discretion.”
Judge Call declared a mistrial Friday, ruling a single question posed by the prosecutor was prejudicial and would prevent Grogan from receiving a fair trial.
Busch in a strongly worded statement, charged that the judge’s ruling “has to be one of the most outrageous abuse of discretion I have encountered in my 20 years of experience in the district attorney’s office.”
Judge Call declined to directly answer the district attorney’s charges.
However, the jurist did say that he is convinced that if Grogan were convicted the case would have been overturned on appeal because of the prosecution question.
He said he based the ruling not on a single question, but on a series of questions, which were “to my mind inflammable, culminating in the last question.
“It was a devastating question,” Judge Call added, “such questions should not be asked.”
Grogan, a 20-year-old follower of Charles Manson, was to be trial over his alleged participation in the 1969 murder of Donald “Shorty” Shea, a movie stuntman she worked at the Spahn Ranch which used to be the hangout for the Manson cult.
The mistrial was declared over a question which prosecutor Burton Katz asked during cross-examination of a defense witness.
The question, according to Judge Call, was “inflammatory” since it planted the idea that Grogan might have been planning another murder.
The mistrial ruling came after six weeks of trial. Grogan is due back in court Thursday to have a new trial scheduled.
The chief prosecutor of Los Angeles county said there is no way of having Judge Call’s ruling reviewed.
Busch asserted that Grogan will be retried, but “unfortunately at further great expense to the taxpayers.”
Busch said he has never before criticized a ruling in the court.
“However, this is one time when I feel the criticism is not only warranted, but dictated by
ihe best interests of the public,” he said.
The abrupt end to the six-week-old trial came on the motion of defence attorney Charles Weedman who objected to a question asked by prosecutor Burton Katz.
On the stand at the time was Nancy Pitman 20, long-time family member.
“Isn’t true that you and Clem (the name by which Grogan was known in the family) were talking about getting a gun to kill Frank Retz?” Burton asked.
Retz was the owner of an adjacent ranch.
Attorney Weedman objected, leading to a day-long conference between the prosecution, defense and Judge Call.
Grogan remains in custody without bond.