Bakersfield, Calif. (KGET) — Motions for a new trial were denied Wednesday for former elementary school principal Leslie Chance, convicted earlier this year of murder in the shooting death of her husband.
Her sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 16. She faces 50 years to life in prison.
In denying the motions, Superior Court Judge Charles R. Brehmer said he found no credible evidence of juror misconduct, and he stands by rulings he made during trial regarding evidence that was not timely presented to the jury. He said he will leave it up to the 5th District Court of Appeal to review those rulings.
Brehmer said he understood the importance of the issues raised by the defense, and the people that are impacted. He said he thoroughly reviewed those issues.
“I’ve looked at (the motions) every single day,” he said.
Chance, 53, was found guilty in January of first-degree murder in the killing of Todd Chance, 45. Her sentencing has been postponed multiple times due to an illness she suffered, concerns of holding the hearing amid the coronavirus pandemic and motions for a new trial based on what her attorney argued were multiple incidents of juror misconduct, as well as failure by the sheriff’s office to collect and book all evidence.
But prosecutors Andrea Kohler and Art Norris argued there were no legal grounds for granting a new trial. Kohler said the juror who spoke with Lidgett about alleged misconduct described the deliberations “vastly different” from other jurors.
While the one juror claimed there was a “bullying-type atmosphere,” others said everyone was allowed to share their thoughts during the deliberation process. Kohler said the description given in the affidavits is of a hard-working jury that went through the evidence and listened to all opinions.
The juror who spoke with Lidgett also said one juror tried to sway the opinion of another juror with a handwritten note, another passed himself off as a car expert when giving his opinion on photos booked into evidence of tire tracks and a juror read transcripts made outside the presence of the jury over the court reporter’s shoulder. None of those claims were substantiated by other jurors, Kohler said.
During trial, it came to light the lead investigator, Kavin Brewer, failed to write and book reports on interviews he conducted with some witnesses. Lidgett said sheriff’s investigators also failed to collect other evidence, including surveillance video from certain locations where Leslie Chance was reportedly seen as she made her way home after shooting her husband.
“I’ve been doing this for a number of years,” Lidgett said. “I can not think of another case where this has occurred where evidence was not booked in.”
In response, Norris said some witnesses who weren’t initially named were identified at trial and Lidgett had an opportunity to question them. Regarding video evidence, in one case investigators were unable to retrieve video from a store’s system, and in another they retrieved what they could but there were “blind spots,” areas where there wasn’t full coverage. That occurs with every video, Norris said.
The prosecutor said law enforcement officers are not required to act as defense attorneys. It’s not their job to try to figure out every permutation or theory of evidence. Their role is to obtain and preserve evidence, he said, not keep a look out for exculpatory evidence.
Prosecutors said Leslie Chance planned and carried out the Aug. 25, 2013, killing of her husband after discovering flirtatious text messages between him and a former girlfriend. She shot him twice in the chest and left his body in an almond orchard near Highway 43 and Noriega Road.
After shooting him, prosecutors said, Leslie Chance abandoned her husband’s Mustang in a southwest Bakersfield neighborhood and made her way home by taxi and walking. She later tried to collect on hundreds of thousands of dollars in life insurance policies.
Chance was principal of Fairview Elementary School at the time of the shooting.