Mistrial declared in Cherrier trial
HUDSON — Four days of trial testimony and nearly 11 hours of jury deliberation in the case of a teenager who allegedly threatened to “shoot kids” were all for naught Monday after a juror was held in contempt of court, prompting a judge to declare a mistrial.
St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Edward Vlack released all 12 jurors on Sept. 25 after learning one of them had brought in a document he had printed off the internet about the Parkland school massacre in Florida.
The mistrial leaves the case open and likely headed toward a second trial for 19-year-old Nicholas H. Cherrier, attorneys said after Monday morning’s hearing. The New Richmond man is charged with making a terrorist threat, a felony that carries a maximum penalty of three-and-a-half years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Jurors were given the case at about 11:23 a.m. Friday and deliberated until 10:15 p.m. that night, when Vlack sent them home for the weekend with orders to resume deliberations Monday morning.
Before declaring the mistrial, Vlack called the juror in question into the courtroom where he asked the man if he had indeed brought the item into the jury room. The man, who identified himself as Juror No. 943, said he did, telling the judge he thought it was “something we could bring in” since it wasn’t directly in reference to the Cherrier case.
Law enforcement officials said the document was a print-off of the Wikipedia page for the Parkland shooting.
The mass shooting — which occurred about six weeks before Cherrier’s comment — figured prominently in the trial: Jurors watched an interrogation video of an investigator referencing it while talking with Cherrier and St. Croix County Assistant District Attorney Ed Minser used the attack in framing the context of the case during closing arguments.
Parkland, Minser said, was “something that was at the forefront of many people’s minds at the time.”
While Cherrier’s family, law enforcement officials and others watched from the gallery Monday, Vlack reminded the juror that jury instructions strictly prohibit jurors from going on the internet and doing their own research. Juror No. 943 said he discussed information from the document in front of the other jurors.
Vlack told the man he was under arrest after “finding you in contempt.” Vlack ordered the man to appear before him on Thursday; he indicated the contempt case would be a civil matter. St. Croix County District Attorney Michael Nieskes requested the costs for the jury in advance of Thursday’s hearing.
Assistant District Attorney Ed Minser, who prosecuted the Cherrier case, said the outcome was the first he’d experienced in at least 20 jury trials.
“It’s a relatively rare experience,” Nieskes added, noting he’s been involved in two such cases in his career.
He said the jury originally carried a 13th juror, but that person was excused after learning he might have had more knowledge of the case than first revealed. That left the trial without an alternate juror, though Nieskes said the likelihood that an alternate would be plucked after deep deliberations would not be advisable.
Defense attorney Mark Gherty said he had to go out for fresh air after Monday’s developments unfolded.
“I’m just extremely disappointed,” he said hours later, adding that Cherrier shared the same sentiment.
Vlack set an Oct. 11 status hearing in the case.Final arguments laid out
Lawyers presented closing remarks Friday morning before jurors received the case.
Minser told the jury the case, in which Cherrier allegedly told a coworker at Nor-Lake that he had just purchased ammunition and planned to shoot kids, was akin to yelling “bomb” on an airplane.
Minser grabbed Cherrier’s AR-15 rifle and his modified Remington shotgun — both of which had been introduced as evidence in the case — and stood before the jury clutching the guns.
“Here’s the plastic explosive and here’s the detonator that he had in his carry-on bag,” the prosecutor said, gesturing to each gun.
Gherty rejected the bomb-on-an-airplane metaphor and maintained that his client’s words were a bad joke that led to backstabbing coworkers pumping up rumors at the workplace.
“Nick Cherrier becomes the boogeyman — the imaginary figure,” said Gherty, who argued his client’s remarks were merely a bad joke.
Gherty questioned why no one at the town of Hudson plant told either Cherrier or company officials their fears. Cherrier was “not aware he was being labeled a mass murderer in training,” Gherty told the jury.
That, he argued, gave cause for a not-guilty verdict in the case. Jury instructions include a requirement that both the speaker and the listener of the threat must be aware that the comment could cause fear or a public panic.
Minser countered that Cherrier indeed knew what was behind those words. The prosecutor said that was in reference to text exchanges with a friend where Cherrier wrote “when we shoot up the school n-gga.”
“This was no joke,” Minser told jurors. “It wasn’t funny. It wasn’t intended to be funny. It was intended to provoke a response. That response was fear.”
Gherty painted his client not as a would-be school shooter, but as a young man who was devoted to his gun hobby and the allure of the firearms. From Cherrier’s standpoint, he “bought something that looks really cool,” Gherty said.Video interview shown
Jurors were shown a recording during the trial’s second day of Cherrier explaining to an investigator what he said that led to the eventual charge.
He was interviewed March 30 by St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office investigator Cary Rose.
In the recording, played Sept. 18 for the jury, Rose asks Cherrier to use his own words to describe the conversation in question.
“Something I brought up about shooting a school,” he said after struggling to recall the exchange with a coworker at Nor-Lake Inc. in the town of Hudson.
“Did he confront you about it, or did you just ... “ Rose says.
“He just like said something,” Cherrier replies.
“About a school?”
“Yeah,” Cherrier says. “And then I said, like, ‘Yeah I’m gonna do that.’ And he said, ‘Oh, that’s not cool.’ And I said, ‘OK, I’m not gonna do that anymore then.’ Something like that. I honestly can’t even really remember it.”
“But there was a conversation between you and Todd about shooting up a school,” Rose said, referring to Todd Emery, the Nor-Lake employee who said Cherrier mentioned “shooting kids.”
“I guess, yeah. If he’d said that,” Cherrier responds.
Rose then asked Cherrier about his intentions — what was behind the comment.
“I have a stupid sense of humor,” Cherrier said.
He admits in the interview that while he didn’t mention any specific person or school, that he did make a reference of the like.
“I don’t know if I actually said ‘kids’ or if I said ‘school,’” Cherrier said.
The comment, made March 29, led to a chain of discussion and rumors among workers at the Nor-Lake plant, which, according to testimony given Tuesday, was eventually taken to senior management. Company officials met the next morning and eventually reported it through the sheriff’s office.
Nor-Lake Vice President of Operations Jeff Blackwell testified that he placed the call, which was “something I felt we had to do for the safety of the company.”
“In this day and age, to be honest, you can’t take chances,” he said.
Blackwell went on to describe how the incident involving Cherrier led to a lockdown at the plant, which remains in effect to this day, along with permanent key-card access security measures. He said the company hired armed, uniformed officers to patrol its town of Hudson plant and its downtown Hudson offices for at least week after Cherrier was released from jail on bond. Nor-Lake footed the bill, he said, at a “very considerable expense.”
Rose also began his testimony — which continued into Wednesday — during the hearing. The interview he did on March 30 was meant “to find out who Nicholas Cherrier was,” Rose said.
The video begins with Sheriff Scott Knudson talking with Cherrier about everyday things — family, school, job opportunities.
“Nice chatting with you, good luck,” Knudson says as Rose arrives.
He leaves and Rose starts the formal interview, where he quickly gets into Cherrier’s work environment and it’s learned he had been disciplined once at Nor-Lake for being late and that he was likely on “thin ice” with the company.
Rose queries Cherrier about his decision to buy body armor, a purchase Cherrier admitted his brother and father frowned upon. He said there’s a “99.9 percent” chance he would never need it, but that he ordered it for protection.
“I’d rather have it if I ever were to need it,” Cherrier tells the investigator.
On the subject of guns and ammunition, of which Cherrier said he owned several, he said he shoots guns in his backyard and sparingly at a Hudson gun range.
Rose later tells Cherrier that, given recent events involving mass shootings, the allegations from Nor-Lake put law enforcement and others on edge. Asked if it concerned him, Cherrier said those events “shouldn’t be happening.”