By Ryan Bakken
Herald Staff Writer
Jurors didn't just find Travis Stay not guilty of murder. The vast majority believed he was innocent.
So said Juror No. 11, who talked Friday of the decision to acquit Stay in the death of Joel Lovelien.
"Based on our conversations when we went over the evidence, 11 of the 12 jurors didn't think he did it," Juror No. 11 said.
The juror approached the Herald to talk about the outcome because of criticisms of the verdict by some talk radio listeners and friends and family of Lovelien. During the two-day trial and the two nights since the verdict, the juror has had trouble sleeping.
"My unrest comes because I don't want the Lovelien family to think ill of the jury," the juror said. "Our hope is that the police and state's attorney keep looking into this case. Someone might crack some day."
The verdict wasn't because jurors believed the defense raised reasonable doubt, leaving them unsure of guilt.
Instead, Juror No. 11 said that a look at the evidence from a neutral party left no choice but not guilty. After going through all of the evidence, a straw poll was 11-1 for acquittal.
"And the one (dissenting) vote said he 'kind of thinks he might have done it.' " the juror said.
After going through the evidence again, the vote was 12-0 after six hours of deliberation.
"I thought we were going to be there for three days," Juror No. 11 said. "But we all pretty much were thinking the same way."
Family, friends and co-workers know Juror No. 11 was on the panel. The juror said he is reassured that in conversations with 30 to 40 people, only one believed Stay should have been found guilty.Juror No. 11 uses first names when talking about both the victim and the accused. When referring to the jury, the word "team" is used.
The team found doubt in virtually all of the prosecution's case. The strongest part of the case was Lovelien fiance Heather Eastling's emotional testimony. "My heart wrenched with pain," the juror said. "I could barely hold my tears and emotions back. But she wasn't witness to anything."
The other evidence that appeared strong initially came from the blood-spatter expert. But then, the expert conceded that the defense's theory of the blood spatter was possible. "We had to dismiss blood spatter as a reason of guilt," the juror said.
Blood evidence actually played in Stay's favor. "Travis was cut and bruised from his earlier fight, yet not one drop of his blood was on Joel," the juror said. "How is that possible? And he was supposed to have hit Joel, but his hands weren't beat up enough to cause that kind of damage. How do you beat someone up that bad and not have the bruises to show for it?"
It didn't make sense for Stay to turn on Lovelien, who was coming to his assistance after Stay was in a fight with James Wavra. "The prosecutor said we had an angry kid, yet we couldn't figure out why Travis would have been angry," the juror said. "There was no motive, which is one of the elements of guilt."
Stay's drunken condition also helped his case. "We didn't think Travis was in any shape to do it," the juror said.
Some of the witnesses from the party bus were not credible, Juror No. 11 said. The juror said police failed to follow up on leads regarding those men, who were called "a cowardly mob of alcohol-fortified tough guys" by the defense attorney Peter Wold in his opening statement.
The prosecution also showed interrogation tapes with Stay, who came to the police station after learning that police were looking for the person dressed in the Halloween costume that he was wearing. The tapes left the opposite impression than desired with Juror No. 11.
"He looked totally surprised when the police said they thought of him as a suspect," the juror said. "I didn't see any acting on Travis' part.
"In fact, I saw a sincere kid coming in to help out with the investigation."
Lovelien is to be admired for going into the Broken Drum parking lot to break up a fight, Juror No. 11 said. "Joel is a man I wish I knew, and his family should know I consider Joel a true hero. He is the kind of person that would put down his life for another person's welfare. May God bless him.
"But Travis was a victim in this, too."
Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.