LINCOLN — A judge declared a mistrial Monday in a murder trial involving the 2017 riot at the Tecumseh State Prison.
Johnson County District Judge Vicky Johnson ruled that a Nebraska State Patrol investigator had violated a court order banning witnesses called to testify from talking about the case with each other after the trial began.
Over the weekend, the investigator talked to prison employees in an attempt to find a missing videotape that depicted the housing units involved in the murder of inmate Michael Galindo.
The mistrial came as the trial of Eric Ramos entered its third week at the Johnson County Courthouse in Tecumseh.
Ramos’ attorneys, Tim Nelsen and Jeff Gaertig, said the judge made the correct decision.
Ramos, 27, was charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of Galindo, who was found dead after riot squads retook a housing unit at the prison on March 2, 2017.
Inmates had gained control of the housing unit for about 3½ hours, during which Galindo was stabbed 130 times and left to die in his smoke-filled cell.
The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office said it would pursue another prosecution of Ramos.
It was expected to be a difficult and long trial. There was no blood or DNA testimony linking Ramos to the slaying, making the video surveillance tape the star witness in the trial.
Prosecutors said the video would lead the jury to identify Ramos as one of the killers, even though the rioting inmates were wearing similar clothing and had covered their faces with towels. Nelsen, in his opening arguments last week, had said Ramos was a bystander.
Another inmate, Damon Fitzgerald, was also found dead after the 2017 riot.
Ramos is the only inmate charged so far in connection with Galindo’s death, but state prosecutors said they will be seeking charges against others.
Galindo’s family has filed a suit in federal court alleging that the state knew that the Tecumseh facility was unsafe and understaffed but failed to make changes. The lawsuit claims that prison staffers abandoned their posts during the riot and watched on video as Galindo was killed.
The Tecumseh prison has been a center of disturbances and assaults on prison employees, as well as staffing problems. Two inmates were killed during an earlier riot at Tecumseh, on Mother’s Day in 2015. And an inmate in solitary confinement was killed by his cellmate in 2017.