Prosecutor's Late Gambit Prompts Hansen Mistrial Hearing

 - August 22, 2022, 4:17 AM

A last-minute gambit by the lead prosecutor could end the Hansen Helicopter trial that began in February. Guam district court judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood will hear a defense motion for a mistrial Tuesday morning.

Hansen and its CEO, John Walker, are on trial for more than 100 counts related to fraud, money laundering, bribery, and violating a long list of FAA regulations in relation to operating more than four dozen helicopters used for fish spotting aboard tuna boats. 

Defense counsel Mack Martin demanded a mistrial late Monday afternoon after lead prosecutor Marie Miller attempted to introduce expert testimony by the trial’s last witness, accident investigator Jeff Guzzetti, before the jury about last week’s fatal crash of a 1973 Hughes 369 helicopter that was operated by Hansen affiliate company Pacific Spotters in the Philippines. The investigation into that accident is continuing and the official cause remains unknown.

Earlier in the day, Tydingco-Gatewood appeared to weaken the government’s case and contention that Hansen’s allegedly illegal practices potentially have led to the death of nine people over the course of more than two dozen accidents. She effectively ruled that consideration of serious bodily injury and/or death from parts fraud be limited to two specific Hansen accidents tied to FAA non-approved tail rotor pitch change links manufactured at Hansen’s direction by a third party. 

Prosecutor Miller’s move to get the Philippines crash before the jury seemed, at least in part, an attempt to compensate for this ruling and underscore the government’s holding that Hansen and Walker are part of a continuing conspiracy to defraud. Miller had previously mentioned the Philippines crash outside the presence of the jury during a motion argument last week. At that time she was cautioned by Tydingco-Gatewood about mentioning a fatal crash with an ongoing investigation or Pacific Spotters. “At this point the Court is not going to allow the Pacific Spotters issue to be brought up,” she said. 

Martin accused Miller of intentionally asking a witness a question that would prompt a mistrial. “This is outrageous conduct by the government,” he said. “Mr. Walker's not going to get a fair trial when they cheat like this. This is cheating, Judge.”

Tydingco-Gatewood appeared to chastise Miller, telling her, “I was very clear that any deaths being discussed would have to be noticed in the indictment,” she said. “I'm surprised that you did this, Miss Miller, but you can defend yourself in the [mistrial] motion because I think I was very clear about the death issue and the serious injury issue.”