A Santa Barbara judge declared a mistrial Thursday when a jury deadlocked on whether to convict an All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church employee with a felony molestation charge.
Jurors came back Thursday afternoon following nearly four full days of deliberations and announced they had failed to reach a unanimous vote in the case against Carlos Ruano, 67, who has been the Montecito church’s sexton since 2005.
The final tally was 9-3 in favor of convicting Ruano of one felony count of lewd conduct against a minor — his then 7-year-old step-granddaughter — during an incident that allegedly took place last July in his Santa Barbara home, according to Deputy District Attorney Benjamin Ladinig.
Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa declared a mistrial at 3 p.m. and dismissed the jurors.
A hung jury leaves open the door to retry the case, which will be determined at a trial confirmation hearing set for next Friday in the same Department 1 courtroom, Ladinig said.
Ruano will remain in custody, where he has been for more than a year.
The jury began deliberations Monday morning following the end of closing arguments late last week in a trial that began Sept. 10.
On Thursday, a handful of parishioners turned out in support of Ruano, who as sexton oversaw buildings and the logistics of all church events. Dozens of church supporters turned out each day of proceedings, including more than 40 for closing arguments.
Prosecutors alleged throughout the trial that Ruano inappropriately touched the young victim when she visited his home on July 29, 2012.
Court documents in the case state that the victim had been jumping on a bed with her brother when he jumped onto her stomach, injuring her. Ruano allegedly touched her beneath her underwear while he was applying lotion for the stomach pain.
The defense has argued that Ruano had no history of such behavior, and pointed to a pending custody battle as motivation to coach the victim.
Ladinig said that although prosecutors were disappointed that a guilty verdict was not reached, the deadlock showed that the young victim was a credible witness and that the case was strong.
“In light of everything, the fact that most of the jurors felt that the defendant was guilty of the crime charged is reassuring that we are on the right path,” he said. “The office just wants to thank the jurors. They put in a lot of time and effort.”
Ladinig couldn’t say for sure that the case would return to trial, and noted that a resolution could also possibly be reached before that time.