While it is unusual for a man suspected of armed bank robbery to be freed pending resolution of his case, it is also practically unheard of for the accused to undergo three failed jury trials on the charges and be looking at a fourth trial.
U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart on Thursday upheld the release of Michael Charles Batie, who has been in custody for nearly 18 months since his May 2003 arrest on one count of bank robbery and one count of brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.
Batie's defense attorney maintained at the Thursday hearing the release is warranted, given the case's "bizarre procedural history." Two federal trials ended in a mistrial, and a third, held in August, ended with a hung jury when jurors were unable to agree on a verdict.
Federal prosecutors appealed U.S. Magistrate Samuel Alba's Sept. 23 decision to free Batie, arguing he has a lengthy criminal history, past history of substance abuse and few ties to the community.
"It appears to be absolutely certain that this defendant should be detained," Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara Bearnson said Thursday, adding no set of release conditions would "reasonably ensure the safety of anybody in this community" from Batie.
Stewart disagreed, saying Alba had imposed restrictive conditions upon Batie, 53, and noting the support Batie has from those in his church community. The judge also said that the government's evidence against Batie does not appear strong enough to warrant his continued detention.
"The weight of the evidence is not so compelling as to oblige detention, as was demonstrated by the hung jury," Stewart said.
According to defense attorney Mary Corporon, the jurors locked in a nine-to-three vote in favor of Batie's acquittal.
Corporon argued Thursday that all factors, including those of fundamental fairness, lean toward allowing Batie to remain free.
"It is simply unfair to continue to detain him," she said.
No new trial date has been scheduled, pending the resolution of a defense motion to dismiss the charges. Stewart will hear arguments on Nov. 4.
Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah, said the office will review Stewart's decision before deciding whether to appeal it to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. She said the office is still dedicated to pursuing the case.
Batie is accused of entering a Salt Lake County Key Bank on March 27, 2003, with his face partially obscured by a mask and demanding money from two tellers at gunpoint. Prosecutors contend that residue found in his vehicle matched that from a dye pack that was placed with the stolen cash.