Deadlocked jury dismissed in Mildenhall airman's stabbing trial
IPSWICH, England — A jury has failed to reach a verdict in the case of a RAF Mildenhall sergeant charged with attempted murder in the stabbing of a British man last spring.
A judge dismissed the 11-member panel on Friday after more than eight hours of deliberation, after the jury failed to determine whether Staff Sgt. Lorrenzo Sanchez was mentally in control of his actions during the attack on Derek Thrower, 62.
Prosecutors have three weeks to refile charges against Sanchez, 27, of the 352nd Special Operations Group, or release him.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed in their closing statements that there was no doubt Sanchez had stabbed Thrower.
Defense attorneys, however, argued that there was doubt as to whether Sanchez was acting in a “disassociated state” that he couldn’t control.
Sanchez was charged after stabbing Thrower more than 13 times early on the morning of May 11 in a Lowestoft hotel room, about 40 miles east of the base. Sanchez also faced a lesser charge of unlawful wounding, if it was determined he wasn’t actually trying to kill Thrower during the attack.
Judge John Devaux also instructed the jury that the attack itself was not in doubt, but rather at issue was whether Sanchez was in a disassociated state during the attack.
Sanchez pleaded not guilty to both charges and maintained that he could not remember anything about the attack.
Prosecutors at the Ipswich Crown Court, however, argued that Sanchez, a survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialist at Mildenhall, consciously fell back on his military training during the unprovoked attack.
No motive for the attack was found.
Sanchez and two other Air Force SERE instructors had been in Lowestoft to prepare a site for waterborne flight crew survival training the next morning. The nine-year Air Force veteran kicked in Thrower’s hotel room door after a night of heavy drinking with two other airmen at local pubs and the hotel bar, according to testimony.
Thrower, who was asleep, woke and told Sanchez to leave the room, which the airman did.
Sanchez allegedly returned moments later and used a folding knife to attack Thrower.
Sanchez told the man, whom he erroneously called “Paul,” that he was going to kill him.
Although bleeding badly, Thrower eventually took the knife from the airman and stabbed him in the abdomen.
After being subdued by police, Sanchez continued to resist the ambulance crew and medical staff, saying he didn’t want medical attention. At one point in the hospital, Sanchez’s attorney said, the airman became docile, then questioned where he was and what was happening.
Defense attorneys argued that the suddenness of the unprovoked attack and the instantaneous end to physical belligerence showed that Sanchez was not acting under the effects of alcohol. People don’t become drunk, or become sober, at “the flick of a switch,” they argued.
Attorneys also questioned how the native of La Luz, N.M., who was the Air Force’s SERE Specialist of the Year in 2004, could act in this way. There were also questions as to whether the “role playing” parts of his SERE instructor duties at Mildenhall and his service in Iraq two years earlier had played a role in his behavior during the attack.
Prosecutor Karim Khalil said in his opening statement that Sanchez was expending pent-up anger brought on by his decision that morning to end his five-year marriage. The dissolution was “central to explain his conduct.”
The airman’s father, Ray Sanchez, said he could not imagine his son acting the way he had during the attack.
“He’s had a stellar career, that’s the Lorrenzo I know,” said Sanchez, who attended the two-week trial with his wife, Louise, and the airman’s wife. “The word ‘bizarre’ was used (to describe Sanchez’s actions). That was what was used by us when we’d first heard of it.”
Defense attorneys told the judge that they needed the full three weeks to get the results of an electroencephalogram, a medical test to determine the electrical activity of the brain, scheduled for Sanchez on Dec. 6. They may also attempt to file a motion to have the airman, who has been in custody since the attack, released on bail.