Judge declares mistrial in strangling case

Crispin Harmel

GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — A judge declared a mistrial in the capital murder trial against Crispin Harmel, 34, over video evidence the defense was not able to access, according to the Williamson County district attorney’s office.

Harmel is accused of strangling Jessika Kalaher, 27, in September 2009.

Prosecutors said Kalaher was found dead in her car across the street from Walmart in Cedar Park, where she had stopped to buy dog food. Jurors saw surveillance video showing both the victim and the suspect at the Walmart. The video showed Kalaher going into the Walmart. Not far behind is Crispin, who goes toward the restroom. Kalaher buys the dog food, leaves, and Crispin is seen going toward Kalaher’s direction — not to where he had parked his truck. Bank records show Kalaher had an ATM withdrawal and a gas purchase.

Surveillance photos show Crispin with his truck, but the charge is on the victim’s debit card.

Harmel’s attorney argued the Walmart surveillance video that became a key piece of evidence in the trial was sprung on the defense unexpectedly. Mark Brunner, the first assistant district attorney, said prosecutors made the video clips available but the defense was not able to open them.

District Attorney Jana Duty said the surveillance video was made available to the defense long ago, however, no one was able to get the exact embedded timeline to display correctly on a computer.

“The defense apparently took this to mean no timeline could ever be shown in court to a jury and premised their strategy accordingly,” Duty said in an email statement to KXAN. “There was no hiding or withholding of evidence on the state’s part. We simply found a way to play back the evidence in court in a manner that the defense could not for whatever reason do themselves.”

The district attorney’s office said it worked with Walmart and Cedar Park police department to find a way to display the embedded timeline in the video.

Although authorities originally arrested Harmel for destroying Kalaher’s credit card, they had been unable to link him directly with her death.

In 2010, he plead guilty to credit card abuse and tampering with evidence and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

But when District Attorney Jana Duty took over the job in 2013, she felt the evidence they had enough to pursue a capital murder charge.

Medical Examiner: Victim lived hours after being strangled
The medical examiner has testified Kalaher died from heat stroke and a mental breakdown brought on from strangulation. He said the oxygen being cut off from the brain can make a person act irrationally.

“A lack of oxygen can bring on confusion, an altered mental state. It’s a effect from the assault – a severe assault to the body that can cause somebody severe mental stress and mental reaction,” said Dr. David Dolinak, Travis County medical examiner. “People can become confused, disoriented. They are trying to block out the experience and they can block out reality. And if they do that, they might not be able to fend for themselves and react to situation.”

Witnesses told detectives they saw Jessika get back into her car with the windows rolled up on a 95 degree day. The medical examiner said heat stroke eventually killed her.

KXAN In-Depth Report: Capital murder indictment handed down in cold case

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