Judge rules mistrial in Sisk capital murder case

Sep. 20—ATHENS — Limestone County Circuit Judge Chad Wise on Monday declared a mistrial in the case of a teen charged with capital murder in the Sept. 2, 2019, shooting deaths of his five family members when he was 14 years old.

Wise said he declared the mistrial because the FBI did not obtain information from the cellphone of Mary Sisk, defendant Mason Wayne Sisk's stepmother and one of those killed, until after the trial began Sept. 12.

"In making this decision, the Court finds that there is a manifest necessity for the discharge of the jury because information from the cellphone of Mary Sisk became available to both parties during the course of this trial. Said information is voluminous in nature, and the parties will need additional time to review it," Wise wrote in his Monday morning order, additionally noting that the prosecution was not at fault for the delay in obtaining the cellphone data.

In a ruling Monday afternoon, Wise set a new trial date of Feb. 13 at 9 a.m. in Limestone County Circuit Court.

Defense attorney Lauren Spacek informally polled a portion of the jury after the mistrial was granted. Most said they were undecided on how they would have ruled, but two appeared to be leaning toward a guilty verdict.

Defense attorney Shay Golden said Wise "was given a very difficult decision to make. We think he made the right decision" in ordering a mistrial. He said Mary Sisk's cellphone included at least 84 gigabytes of data that both parties will need to examine.

"Mary's iPhone did contain statements that showed the general overview of their relationship in a positive way," Golden said minutes after the mistrial. "There are literally thousands upon thousands, tens of thousands upon tens of thousands of documents we still have to go through.

"We don't know what is or what is not in there. That is what is problematic. There could have been stuff that helped us or might have been stuff on there that didn't. We're entitled to investigate the allegations against our client. We are required to."

Golden said one of the threads on Mary Sisk's phone had communications from November 2018 to July 2019, two months before the killings.

Limestone County District Attorney Brian Jones on Friday told the judge and defense attorneys Michael Sizemore and Golden that the FBI was close to cracking into the information on Mary Sisk's iPhone. He said the state turned Mary Sisk's phone and her husband John Sisk's phone over to the FBI in 2019 in the early stages of the capital murder investigation.

"The FBI told us it could be two years to 26 years before they were able to crack it," Jones said Monday. "We produced the materials over the weekend and the defense got it. John Sisk's phone has not been cracked and is still on the machine in Quantico (Virginia)."

Wise ordered the state to retrieve John Sisk's phone from the FBI and make it available to the defense for inspection within 21 days.

Jones said he was "very disappointed" but "not really surprised" at the judge's ruling for a mistrial.

"The data dump was so large there was really no time to sift through it," Jones said. "I'm disappointed in that this was a fine group of people that both sides picked as a jury and they sat there and listened to the evidence."

The jury was shown gruesome photos of the shooting scene and of autopsies.

"This is something you can't unsee," Jones said. "These are people who came to this courthouse to do their civic duty and they're leaving the building without any kind of finality. They have to go home to address how they are going to deal with the fact they have seen this type of material. ... It's horrific."

Now 17, Mason Wayne Sisk is accused of fatally shooting his father John, stepmother Mary, brothers Grayson Kane, 6, and Colson, 6 months, and his sister Aurora, 4, at close range while they slept in their home on Ridge Road just east of downtown Elkmont. All the victims were shot in the head, according to authorities.

More than 50 images of the crime scene showed the victims' bodies in their bloody beds with bullet wounds to their heads. Grayson Kane and John Sisk were transported to hospitals in Birmingham and Decatur, respectively, where they died from their injuries.

According to testimony from witnesses called by the prosecution, the defendant was "fed up" with being physically and verbally abused by his father and had issues with his stepmother's overbearing "manners crap."

In a recorded interview of Mason Sisk being interviewed by then-Limestone Sheriff Mike Blakely and Investigator Johnny Morrell the day after the shootings, plus testimony and text messages between Sisk and Sisk's former girlfriend and another female friend from school, Sisk changed his account of the shootings four times.

A video of his interview with Blakely and Morrell showed Sisk answering a few questions and being given a gunshot residue test in the investigation room at the Sheriff's Office 32 minutes before his juvenile Miranda rights were read to him.

Jones said Blakely, who was not called to testify and last year was convicted of first-degree theft and use of official position or office for personal gain, would have been a "redundant witness" after Morrell had taken the stand.

The state rested its case Friday afternoon. The defense was set to call witnesses Monday morning before a meeting with the judge outside of the courtroom led to the mistrial.

Jones and Golden said they were confident a Limestone County jury could be seated again despite the heavy media coverage of the trial during the past week. Both said they were not opposed to a change of venue, if necessary.

"I trust the people of Limestone County and that they can come in here and listen to the facts," Golden said.

He said Mason Sisk "was very thankful that the judge made the decision he made. ... He is very patient and awaiting our next step."

Due to his age at the time of the slayings, the death penalty is not available if Mason Sisk is ultimately convicted. Sisk turns 18 on Dec. 25.

mike.wetzel@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2442. Twitter @DD_Wetzel.