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Deadlocked jury leads to mistrial in former officer's wrongful termination trial

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By Caroline Curran, Reporter

BOLIVIA—Was Terri Oxford fired from the town of Holden Beach because she is a woman?

Ten jurors thought she was—two jurors thought she wasn’t.

A Brunswick County jury failed to unanimously determine the answer to that question, leading to a mistrial in the gender discrimination and wrongful termination trial against the town of Holden Beach.

After nearly three days of deliberation, jury foreperson Dianna Laster told Superior Court Judge Ola Lewis jurors were deadlocked at 10-2 without the chance of anyone changing their minds.

“Are you hopelessly deadlocked, or is there a possibility of continued meaningful deliberation?” Lewis asked Laster.

“I think at this point it’s not meaningful anymore. Everybody has made up their minds,” Laster said.

Lewis declared a mistrial around 11 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3, then ordered “the parties to mediation within 45 days of today’s date so that we can set another trial date at the end of the year.”

Testimony in the trial began Monday, July 19, in Brunswick County Superior Court.

Oxford, who worked for the town from 1999-2008, filed a wrongful termination and gender discrimination lawsuit after she was fired from the town in 2008. Oxford claimed police chief Wally Layne fired her because she was a woman. The jury failed to unanimously agree.

After Lewis declared a mistrial, jurors, no longer under court order not to speak to any parties or the press, opened up about their deliberations. One by one, many of the jurors, some of whom had tears in their eyes, approached Oxford to speak to her, hug her and wish her well in her retrial.

The 10-2 split was in favor of Oxford, which surprised Holden Beach attorney Norwood Blanchard.

“Any result other than a plaintiff’s verdict is a win for the defense,” Blanchard said.

“There’s always the possibility of settlement in these cases,” Blanchard said, but added, “Retrials typically favor the defense.”

Layne declined to comment on the outcome of the case, referring all questions to Blanchard.

James Hairston, one of Oxford’s Raleigh-based attorneys, said Oxford would continue with a retrial.

“This was a pursuit of justice to Terri Oxford. We are going to continue with that pursuit.

"As soon as it gets on the calendar, we’ll be back in Brunswick County,” Hairston said.

Both attorneys said they would take jurors’ comments into account when preparing for the retrial.

Oxford said she was “relieved it’s over and ready for round two.”

She said she was overwhelmed by the jurors’ support after the trial.

“Whenever they came out and they came straight to me and started crying, it made me cry. They said it was just obvious. They said the evidence was there. They want to support me when I go to trial. They’re all going to keep in touch and they said they were all going to be at the trial,” Oxford said.

“They were really, really strong about wanting this to come to justice.”

Becky Mooney, one of the two jurors not in favor of Oxford, said Oxford was not wrongfully terminated by the town.

“I saw that Ms. Oxford had violated the town’s policy. I don’t think it was because she was a female,” Mooney said.

Mooney said she and the other juror who were not in favor of Oxford were not going to change their minds.

“We could have been here a month,” and their opinion wouldn’t change, Mooney said.

Juror Sharon Allen, one of the 10 in favor of Oxford, said she hopes Oxford continues with a retrial.

“I think the town of Holden Beach, they were completely wrong. They were liable. I hope she does it again. It’s just heartbreaking,” Allen said.

“It is so clear to me that this kind of stuff happens,” Laster said when asked if she felt Oxford was discriminated against because of her gender.

Laster said jurors were preparing to award damages to Oxford for back wages, attorneys' fees, losing her state pension and to pay back money she had to borrow from family.

“Some of the jurors indicated they were willing to award into seven figures,” Oxford’s attorney Robert Lane III said.