inside sources print logo
Get up to date New Hampshire news in your inbox

Woodburn’s Domestic Abuse Trial Ends With Hung Jury

The state’s second domestic abuse trial against former Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jeffrey Woodburn ended in a hung jury Thursday.

Jurors were unable to come to a unanimous guilty or not guilty verdict following the one-day trial in Coös Superior Court, forcing Judge Peter Bornstein to declare a mistrial.

Woodburn’s lawyer, Mark Sisti, told NHJournal he suspects jurors could not agree on whether or not his client acted in self-defense when he bit the alleged victim during a 2017 altercation.

“Most of the facts were already stipulated. The real question is whether it was self-defense,” Siti said.

One of the jury’s questions to the court during deliberation sought clarification on what constitutes a criminal assault.

“Is grabbing someone’s phone considering the time, place, and circumstances an act of assault or confinement?” a juror asked.

Bornstein responded that the facts were up to them to determine based on what they heard at trial and that they should look at the incident in total.

The judge wrote back, “You should consider all the facts and circumstances at that time and place based on the evidence presented.”

The vote split among jurors was not known Thursday, and Sisti said he would not be able to communicate with any jurors for 30 days following the trial. What’s also unknown is if the state plans to try for a third trial against Woodburn.

Reached for comment, New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella’s spokesman, Michael Garrity, told NHJournal no decision on a potential third trial has been made.

“We have not made any decision on whether to retry this matter. We will make that decision after due consideration,” Garrity said.

Sisti is prepared to keep fighting if there is a third trial, saying Woodburn has no intention of backing down.

“We’re going all the way. This is a case he’s not going to drop,” Sisti said.

Thursday’s mistrial shows the strength of Woodburn’s position, according to Sisti. The state likely cannot prove the case to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, he believes.

The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, which has commented on the case in the past, did not offer a take on Thursday’s mistrial. Instead, it sent NHJournal a statement reminding all survivors of domestic violence that help is available.

“Survivors should not feel alone in New Hampshire. An advocate is available 24/7 and is a phone call away. The statewide hotline is 1-866-644-3574.”

The charges stem from Woodburn’s actions related to three separate incidents, according to court records. In the first instance, Woodburn and the woman arrived in separate vehicles at a Dec. 15, 2017, Christmas party. The woman agreed to drive him home so that Woodburn would be able to drink at the party. During an argument on the drive home, Woodburn had the woman pull over, and during a struggle over his phone, he bit her hand, according to court records.

On Christmas Eve of that same year, Woodburn kicked the door to the woman’s house after she refused to let him inside. Earlier that year, in August 2017, he reportedly kicked her clothes drier, breaking the appliance, according to court records.

The woman went on record telling Bornstein that during one of her struggles with Woodburn, she tried to grab his phone without permission.

Woodburn was convicted in 2021 on two counts of criminal mischief, one count of domestic violence, and one count of simple assault. Last year, the New Hampshire Supreme Court overturned the simple assault and domestic violence convictions, ruling Woodburn was denied a fair trial because he had been prevented from arguing self-defense in front of the first jury.

The criminal mischief convictions and 30-day jail sentences are both still pending another appeal to the state Supreme Court. 

Woodburn was formally charged in August 2018 but still ran for reelection to the state Senate despite calls for his resignation. He won the Democratic primary but lost in the general election.

In Domestic Violence Trial, Dem Woodburn Wants Biting To Count as Self-Defense

According to his attorney, jurors should be ordered to consider biting as self-defense when they deliberate the simple assault and domestic abuse charges against Jeffrey Woodburn.

The disgraced Democratic former state Senate Minority Leader is gearing up for his second trial on allegations he assaulted his former girlfriend on multiple occasions. His arrest six years ago resulted in a trial, conviction, and multiple appeals — not to mention the end of his political career. 

Woodburn continues to fight the charges.

The Coos County Democrat was convicted in 2022, but the state Supreme Court tossed those convictions last year because he was originally barred from making the case he acted in self-defense. That sent the case back to Coos Superior Court for a new trial.

Woodburn’s attorney, Mark Sisti, filed his version of proposed jury instructions ahead of the sequel trial slated to start next week. The jury instructions make it clear Woodburn will try to justify his use of physical violence against his former girlfriend.

“A person has the right to utilize non-deadly force when he can reasonably believe that such force is necessary in order to defend himself. In this case, Jeffrey Woodburn asserts that his act of physical contact, including biting the alleged victim, was necessary as he reasonably believed that the complainant posed an imminent threat of restraining him from exiting the car,” according to the Woodburn defense documents.

According to court records, Woodburn bit the woman during a December 2017 argument as she was driving him back from a party. An intoxicated Woodburn demanded to be let out of the car, and he planned to call a friend for a ride. When the woman reached to take his phone, he allegedly bit her hand, according to the allegations.

While Woodburn was not able to cast blame on the victim at his original trial, the Supreme Court’s ruling means he can now claim the woman’s past aggressiveness when dealing with him, usually when he was intoxicated, to justify his actions. 

According to the proposed jury instructions, Woodburn will argue he was acting out of the “heat of passion” and shouldn’t be judged with hindsight.

“In deciding whether the defendant acted in self-defense, you should consider all of the circumstances surrounding the incident. You should consider how the defendant acted under the circumstances as they were presented to him at the time and not necessarily as they appear upon detached reflection. You should consider whether the defendant’s belief that it was necessary to use non-deadly force was reasonable when he acted in the heat of passion,” the proposed instructions state.

It will ultimately be up to a jury to decide if Woodburn’s self-defense claims are enough to keep him from consequences. His related convictions on charges of criminal mischief were upheld on appeal, but Woodburn has yet to serve any jail time as the 30-day sentences were stayed pending the new trial.

According to court records, Woodburn kicked the door to the woman’s house and she refused to let him inside about a week after the fight in the car. Earlier that year, in August 2017, he reportedly kicked her clothes dryer, breaking the appliance, according to court records.

Woodburn’s tenacity in fighting the charges is similar to his scramble to stay in politics after his arrest in the summer of 2018. Despite calls from state Democrats to resign, Woodburn ran for reelection and won the primary in September 2018. He went on to lose the general election that November.

No More Delays in Second Woodburn Abuse Trial

Coos Superior Court Judge Peter Bornstein rejected a last-minute attempt to delay former state Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn’s second domestic abuse trial.

Woodburn’s attorney, Mark Sisti, asked for a delay weeks before the March 12 trial is set to start so that he could attend to his duties as the Gilmanton Town Moderator. Gilmanton’s annual town elections are also slated for March 12.

In his order denying the delay request, Bornstein wrote Sisti knew about the conflict for several months and should have said something earlier. He wrote that Sisti’s “eleventh-hour” request fails to show any good cause for rescheduling.

“Defense counsel likely knew or should have known at least eight months ago that the 2024 Gilmanton town meeting was scheduled for March 12, 2024, inasmuch as the date of annual town meetings in New Hampshire is prescribed by statute,” Bornstein wrote.

As moderator, Sisti is required to oversee elections in Gilmanton, and to make sure the vote totals are certified after polls close. While New Hampshire law allows a moderator to appoint a substitute moderator, Sisti would not tell NHJournal how he planned to cover the trial and the election.

“Of course, I will be at the trial,” Sisti said in an email response to NHJournal. “I have already taken care of the election situation…all is fine.”

Gilmanton Town Clerk Elise Smith told NHJournal it is her understanding that Sisti will open the polls at 7 a.m., then take a “long lunch” before coming back in time to oversee the end of the vote. Sisti is a top attorney in New Hampshire, and Election Day conflicts have happened before.

“This is not the first time this has happened with Moderator Mark Sisti,” Smith said.

Now that Sisti is prepared to pull double duty on March 12, the way is clear for Woodburn to finally return to court for his second trial on the simple assault and domestic violence charges.

Woodburn was originally charged in August 2018 while he served as Minority Leader in the state Senate. He ignored months of pressure to resign and won the 2018 Democratic primary even as the charges swirled. Woodburn went on to lose the general election to an obscure Republican opponent.

Woodburn was convicted in 2021 after a trial, but those convictions were overturned last year by the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

The state Supreme Court ruled Woodburn was entitled to a new trial because he was not allowed to use a self-defense argument in the original proceedings.

The simple assault and domestic violence convictions stem from Woodburn’s violent actions against a woman he was romantically involved with at the time. According to court records, Woodburn struggled over a phone, and he bit her hand. In another incident on Christmas Eve 2017, Woodburn kicked the door of the woman’s house when she refused to let him enter. He had previously kicked her clothes dryer, breaking the appliance.

Woodburn was also convicted in 2021 on two counts of criminal mischief in the same case. He’s facing 30 days in jail on those convictions. He is currently free, pending another appeal.