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Mistrial Declared in Zurwell Case After Jury Impasse
June 17, 2009 - With attorneys on the case unable to impanel a full jury, last week's scheduled criminal trial against Amanda Zurwell, the former Charles A. Beard Memorial School Corporation business manager facing forgery and theft charges, was declared a mistrial.
Thirty-five of the 55 people called for jury duty in Henry Superior Court 1 on June 9 showed up. After some initial questions Judge Michael Peyton resulted in two prospective jurors from Knightstown being dismissed, those remaining were divided into three groups and questioned by the attorneys as part of the jury selection process.
By mid-afternoon, after all prospective jurors had been questioned, Deputy Prosecutor Joe Bergacs and Zurwell's attorneys, Stephanie Doran of Kokomo and Mark Cox of Richmond, had dismissed another 22 people. This left them with 11 jurors, two short of what's required to provide a full 12-person jury with one alternate.
With no jury to hear the case, Peyton declared a mistrial. A new trial has been scheduled for Tuesday, July 14, at 8:30 a.m., and is expected to last as long as three days.
Zurwell, who worked about four-and-a-half months for CAB during the 2006-2007 school year, was charged in April 2007 with two felony counts of forgery and four felony counts of theft in connection with her brief employment at CAB. She is alleged to have forged two CAB checks payable to herself - one for $2,297.19 that was cashed and one for $2,651.50 that was discovered and voided before being cashed - and with overpaying herself about $2,300 after taking over payroll duties.
The forgery charges Zurwell faces are Class C felonies that each carry a maximum sentence of eight years in prison and fines of $10,000. The four counts of theft are Class D felonies that could each result in as much as three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Zurwell's case was first set for trial in September of 2007. Before last week's proceedings, however, her trial date had been continued nine different times.
During his initial questioning of the jury pool, Peyton read though a list of eight potential witnesses that may be called to testify in the case. The list included three former CAB employees and one person who still works in CAB's central office.
Among the former CAB employees expected to testify at Zurwell's trial in July are former Superintendent David McGuire, former treasurer Judy Barnes and former payroll and benefits clerk Angela Moss. The current CAB employee listed as a potential witness is Jena Schmidt, administrative assistant to the superintendent.
Others likely to be called as witnesses include Detective Elmer New of the Henry County Sheriff's Department, who was the investigating officer on the case, and Robin White, an auditor from the State Board of Accounts. Zurwell's attorneys also listed two witnesses who conducted an independent audit of financial records involved in the case.
An audit conducted by the SBA in early 2007, shortly after Zurwell resigned from her job with CAB, concluded that Zurwell should repay $7,291.03. In February of this year, the Indiana Attorney General's Office filed a complaint to against Zurwell in the Henry Circuit Court to recover these funds, and Judge Mary Willis entered a default judgment against Zurwell for the full amount on March 31. To date, that judgment has not been satisifed.
This is not the first time that Zurwell has faced criminal charges involving alleged theft from an employer. In fact, at the time she resigned from CAB in mid-January 2007, she was being investigated with respect to the alleged theft from her former employer, Brown County School Corporation.
In April 2008, Zurwell pleaded guilty to one count of theft in a Brown County Court with respect to a $3,132 check stolen in July 2006 from BCSC. Last June, she was sentenced to 180 days of home detention, one year of probation and 80 hours of community service for that offense.
In addition to her pending criminal case in Henry Superior Court 1 and the default judgment entered against her in Henry Circuit Court, Zurwell also has a related case pending in Henry County's third court, Superior Court 2. In a small claims case she filed against CAB in April 2008, she claims CAB owes her $1,587.03 for "contract salary underpayment, unpaid cell phone stipend, and taxes erroneously held," and she is seeking $86 in court costs.
CAB responded to Zurwell's small claims case by filed a counterclaim against her seeking $7,281. That case, by the agreement of both parties, has been continued indefinitely without a trial date being set.
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