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Arizona Jury Acquits CCA Escapees

Two Alaska state prisoners on trial for a 1996 escape from a private prison were acquitted by an Arizona jury. The prosecution was undoubtedly stunned by the verdict in what was considered to be an open and shut case. However, the prosecutor in the case had no post-verdict comments for the press.

Jurors returned the not guilty verdicts on February 18, 2000, after Mark Hartvigsen testified that he had to escape from the Central Arizona Detention Center, run by Corrections Corporation of America, because his life was in danger, said his attorney Richard Gierloff.

Hartvigsen told jurors that he has a heart condition requiring medicine but that CCA guards would often withhold his medication for "disciplinary reasons." He also testified that CCA medical personnel gave him the wrong medication for a while, causing him to have a stroke.

Acquittals from escape charges are rare. The "duress defense" presented by Hartvigsen's attorney almost never succeeds. Under Arizona law, a prisoner has to convince the jury that he faced immediate life-threatening danger and that he had tried legal means to fix the problem.

The prosecutor in the case told the jury that Hartvigsen's allegations of medical mistreatment were not true, according to the Alaska Commissioner of Corrections Margaret Pugh. But the prosecutor made a "tactical decision" to not present evidence to the contrary, Pugh told the Daily News.

Hartvigsen's co-defendant, Edward L. Martin, was acquitted after offering an even rarer defense. In closing arguments, his attorney John Schaus pointed out to the jury that the prosecution failed to present any evidence that the defendant was the same "Inmate Martin" who escaped. Martin also had complaints about medical maltreatment, but he did not take the stand. "My argument to the jury was, you don't have to get to duress," Schaus told the Daily News. "They never established that he left."

Pugh said she and other state officials were astounded when they learned of the verdicts. She attributed them to the "unpredictable nature" of juries.

Source: The Daily News

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