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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.