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Comanche County judge declares mistrial in murder case

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LAWTON, Okla. - Comanche County Judge Gerald Neuwirth declared a mistrial in the first-degree murder trial of 52-year-old Ricky Ray Elvaker Monday afternoon.

Elvaker stands accused of killing Derrick Farr in January of 2008. Police discovered Farr's body at 52nd St. and Bishop Rd. in Lawton and believed he was beaten with a blunt object and possibly run over by a vehicle. Detectives say someone moved Farr's body about a mile down the road after the beating.

The decision for mistrial came after a witness' testimony offered what Defense Attorney Don Gutteridge called "highly prejudicial information" on Elvaker's criminal past.  

When asked what he and Elvaker did the night before Derrick Farr's murder, a witness said he and Elvaker had some beers at a prostitute's house and Elvaker told him how much time he spent in prison. That was more than the defense attorney thought the jury needed to hear.

Gutteridge knew his client's criminal past, but the jury did not until today's testimony.

"27 years in prison is a long time. Obviously the implication from that is that he must be a very bad man and very capable of committing a murder," said Gutteridge.

The judge agreed the testimony was inadmissible. He told the jury he wanted them to make their decision based on this case alone, not on the defendant's criminal history.

"So far as the jurors know, he had never committed a crime. With that in the back of their mind, on a murder case, I think if they were wavering that could put them over the top."

Legally had Elvaker taken the stand and testified, prosecutors could have asked him about his time in prison, but this witness could not offer up that information.

"If the witness had said ‘he'd been in prison', or ‘he'd been in jail', I would have still moved for a mistrial, but probably the judge could have just said to the jurors, just strike that from your mind, that's not important, don't think anything about it."

Judge Neuwirth told the jurors that state law does not require him to rule a mistrial, but said he knows it is hard to ask them to forget something that they heard.

"I agree with the judge's decision.  What the witness said was that my client had been in prison for 27 years. That information is highly prejudicial."

Assistant District Attorney Rande Worthen said the DA's office would prepare to try Elvaker again on the next jury docket in September. Elvaker cannot be tried again on the current June docket because a new pool of jurors is required. Jury selection took all day Monday.

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