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6:11 AM Thu, Nov. 15th

Judge declares mistrial in murder case

PRESCOTT – Earl Ray Lappe, a Prescott man who faces a first-degree premeditated murder charge in connection with the shooting death of Anthony Smith, will face another jury trial because a judge declared a mistrial Friday.

It is not clear why Yavapai County Superior Court Judge William Kiger declared the mistrial.

Deputy Yavapai County Attorney Dennis McGrane and the defendant's lawyer, Kenneth Ray, declined to comment on the matter, citing a gag order.

According to court records, Kiger has imposed a gag order on all parties involved in the case, including court staff.

In addition, before he reportedly excused the jurors, he advised them that the court's admonition not to discuss the case will apply until after the new trial, which is likely to commence on July 9, concludes.

Police arrested Lappe, 26, in October 2001 and charged him with the shooting death of 47-year-old Smith.

According to court records, police found Smith's body in his Prescott home in the early morning hours of Sept. 7 after receiving an anonymous phone call requesting a check on his welfare. Police found him dead from a 20-gauge shotgun wound to his head.

Lappe reportedly told a number of people about the shooting. Police reportedly recovered the defendant's bloodstained clothes, as well as the shotgun.

One of the witnesses, Marc Tapija, testified during the preliminary hearing for Lappe that the defendant told him that he killed Smith. Tapija reportedly told police that he and another witness were present when Lappe allegedly changed out of his bloodstained clothes.

Before Kiger declared the mistrial, Layla Vergas testified, the court file indicates. Lappe's attorney, Kenneth Ray, reportedly asked Kiger for a mistrial outside the presence of the jury. Deputy Yavapai County Attorney Ethan Wolfinger reportedly objected to the request. The court records do not indicate whether the defense argument for a mistrial had anything to do with Vergas' testimony. But it appears that she was the only witness who testified Friday morning. Kiger also excused a juror that morning after he asked the court to be excused.

Since Friday, Ray has filed two motions. In one, he asked the court to grant his client an opportunity to question any prospective jurors before jury selection starts again on July 9. The line of questioning would relate to a possible jury media exposure regarding this case.

Contact the reporter at mburicadam@prescottaz.com