Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Mistrial declared
for stepfather
in baby’s death

The state may seek a retrial for
Vern King in the alleged murder

By Debra Barayuga

The state says it expects to seek a retrial against Vern E. King, a stepfather accused of murdering his 22-month-old stepdaughter 16 years ago.

Circuit Judge Karen Ahn declared a mistrial yesterday after jurors said they were unable to reach a verdict and could not do so even if given more time to deliberate.

Jurors were handed the case Friday afternoon and deliberated for three hours. They returned yesterday and deliberated for five hours before indicating they were deadlocked.

Jurors did not state in open court why they were deadlocked.

Deputy Prosecutor Maurice Arrisgado said the age of the case probably was a big factor but that it should not be a deterrent in prosecuting someone because there is no statute of limitations for murder.

"We will continue to seek justice in this case," Arrisgado said.

Arrisgado said the defense is expected to file a motion to dismiss the case.

Deputy Public Defender Gary Oakes could not be reached for comment.

The state believes King suffocated his stepdaughter the night of May 8, 1985, after her mother had left for an errand.

When her mother returned about 40 minutes later, Kareatha Gray was unconscious. She died an hour later at Tripler Army Medical Center.

King denied he did anything to harm his stepdaughter or cause her death.

Medical examiners in 1985 noted that the manner of Gray's death could not be determined. Gray's remains were exhumed two years later, and another autopsy was conducted, but the case was closed in 1990, still unresolved.

It was not until the case was reviewed again in 1995 by naval investigators did the focus of the investigation shift to King. The case was turned over to the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney in 1996, and King was indicted by a grand jury that same year.

King will remain in prison while awaiting a retrial.

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