Jury deadlocks in S.F. dog-mauling case

District Attorney’s Office does not yet know if they will try mother a second time

A San Francisco jury Monday announced it was “hopelessly deadlocked” on charges against Maureen Faibish, a mother accused of felony child endangerment in the dog-mauling death of her 12-year-old son last spring.

Judge Anne Bouliane declared a mistrial after the jury of eight women and four men announced through their spokeswoman that they were deadlocked with 10 in favor of acquittal on the felony charge and seven in favor of conviction on the misdemeanor charge.

District Attorney Kamala Harris brought charges against Faibish last year after her son Nicholas Faibish was killed by the family’s two 70-pound pit bulls, Rex and Ella. Over the course of the trial, prosecutor Linda Moore tried to portray a mother who knowingly left her son at home with two dangerous dogs.

On June 3, 2005, Maureen Faibish came home from her daughter’s school picnic to find Nicholas, whom she’d told to stay in the garage away from the dogs, dead on the floor of her bedroom with the pit bulls licking his bloody body. Ella was in heat, and Nicholas had apparently been bitten on his arm and abdomen earlier in the day when he interfered with Rex’s mating attempts.

Nicholas had a learning disability and problems following directions, which Moore argued should have indicated he would leave the garage where he was left playing video games. The garage didn’t have a working toilet, and therefore Nicholas would be forced to go upstairs, where the dogs were, to use the bathroom, Moore argued.

But defense attorney Lidia Stiglich called Nicholas’ death “one page ripped” from the family’s story. She showed pictures of the family cuddling with the dogs and called a string of family members and friends who testified that the garage was used as a second living room and that the dogs were part of the family.

“Nicky would mind me,” Nicholas’ father and Maureen Faibish’s husband, Steven Faibish, said when he took the stand. “He was a good boy.”

Stiglich attempted to prove 40-year-old Maureen Faibish couldn’t have known what would happen that Friday, three days before the family moved to Oregon.

Maureen Faibish had several emotional breakdowns during the trial. When Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Venus Azar testified that Nicholas’ nose had been ripped off during the attack and several of his teeth were removed, she erupted in tears and had to leave the courtroom. While testifying for the defense, Steven Faibish broke down and sobbed when Stiglich asked him to describe Nicholas.

Maureen Faibish was also transported to San Francisco General Hospital after she again broke down during the defense’s closing arguments Wednesday.

After the trial Monday, District Attorney’s Office administrative chief Linda Klee said, “We believe the evidence was strong enough to sustain a conviction, and obviously some jurors had a difficult time with it, probably because the defendant also had a sympathy factor — it was her son.”

Klee did not say whether the District Attorney’s Office would retry the case. That decision, she said, would be made during the next few weeks.

Faibish did not speak to the media after the trial, but Stiglich, her arm wrapped around her client, said she didn’t think a second prosecution was appropriate.

“I think the Faibish family has suffered enough throughout this process. I think we had a real hardworking jury, and if we have a hundred more hardworking juries, we’re always going to be here,” she said. She said of the jury, “they understand that people make mistakes, that parents make mistakes and that not all mistakes are criminal.”

Maureen Faibish is due back in court Sept. 11 to confer with the judge and the District Attorney's Office about the future, if any, of her case.

Legal experts say sympathy for Faibish, her loss may have influenced jurors

A jury that deadlocked while deliberating on a felony child endangerment charge against Maureen Faibish did not offer any comment Monday, but experts suggested jurors may have had sympathy for her and her loss.

“It’s going to be a hard case to prove,” University of San Francisco law professor Bob Talbot said on July 17, the first day of the trial. “You’re dealing with a loving mother and the horrible loss of her son. There’s nothing to indicate she was a bad mother in the past.”

On Monday, the jury announced a 10-2 deadlock in favor of acquittal on a felony child endangerment charge and a 7-5 deadlock in favor of misdemeanor conviction on the same charge. Judge Anne Bouliane declared the case a mistrial.

The felony charge against Faibish carried a maximum 10-year prison sentence. It also included the possibility for Faibish to be convicted of a misdemeanor child endangerment charge, whichcould have resulted in a year in county jail.

The jury deliberated for just over two days and reported that it took four votes on the felony charge and one on the misdemeanor. It submitted questions during the deliberation asking for clarification in the definitions of the felony and misdemeanor charges.

“We all know that parenting is hard and that parents make mistakes, and I think jurors are reluctant to hold someone criminally responsible even when they’ve made a colossal and tragic mistake, especially if jurors see that the person is themselves suffering for that error.” said Erin Murphy, an assistant law professor at the University of California at Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law.

Faibish broke down in tears several times during both testimony and the trial’s closing arguments.

Murphy said the jury’s final deadlock suggests “they were a careful, thoughtful jury who took to heart the judge’s instructions on each charge,” she said. “This is not a jury that’s saying ‘what do we think generally about whether this is a good or bad thing.’”

While prosecutors can decide to retry the case, Murphy said the 10-2 deadlock on the felony charge sends “a strong statement” that a second trial might meet with limited success.

San Francisco courts logjam update: Trials getting back on track, but still a long way to go

Public Defender continues fight to get jailed defendants their right to speedy justice

Using conservatorships to deal with gritty urban issues

“Half the state thinks we conserve too many people, and the other half thinks we don’t conserve enough.”

How Chinatown’s last photo shops have avoided becoming a relic of the past

“We have the best Chinatown in the whole United States, really, but now I see it suffering more and more.”