ATHENS, Ala. (WHNT) – It has been a week since a Limestone County judge declared a mistrial in the case of Mason Sisk.
The teenager is charged with killing five family members in Elkmont in September 2019 when he was just 14. The victims included his parents, John and Mary Sisk, his six-year-old brother Grayson, his 4-year-old sister Aurora and his six-month-old brother Colson.
The state had rested its case before the mistrial ruling and its evidence included an interview with investigators where Sisk eventually told them he killed his family.
The mistrial ruling came shortly before the defense was due to begin its case. The court ruled the mistrial was necessary because of the late arrival of evidence involving Mary Sisk’s cell phone. Prosecutors said the access code to the phone was only cracked open at an FBI lab on Sept. 14, the third day of the trial.
Prosecutors notified the court and the defense. They shared a hard drive with Mary’s phone messages with the defense over the weekend.
The database contained thousands of messages. Defense attorneys Shay Golden and Michael Sizemore asked for a mistrial, arguing they couldn’t possibly go through the messages in a timely way to assess if any of the information would help their case. Limestone County Circuit Judge Chad Wise declared a mistrial and later set a new trial date for Feb. 13.
There were four days of testimony in this case. Practically speaking that means both sides got a preview of the next trial, but Sisk attorney Michael Sizemore, says some key issues will need to be reargued, because the previous record in the case won’t have any effect on the new trial.
The record will be part of any appellate record, Sizemore said.
“Because the case was declared a mistrial, no party can be advantaged by that decision, so all of the substantive rulings the judge made, even pre-trial, all have to be relitigated. As far as the admissibility of any evidence, whether or not a statement is due to be suppressed,” Sizemore said. “We have to go back and not just pay lip service to that…we have to legitimately go back and litigate the suppression issue.”
The defense continues to argue that Sisk was improperly detained the night of the shootings and questioned for an extended period, without being given a Miranda warning. The defense also argues that information obtained through questioning Sisk, including the location of the alleged murder weapon, should be thrown out.
Sizemore said the defense is reviewing Mary Sisk’s phone information, but it is a time-consuming process.
“The data as we received it, has to be accessed through a single source, because of the way you have to extract it off the hard drive that was given to us,” Sizemore said. “So really, only one person can work on that at any given time. It is a tedious process and we’re still waiting to get John’s phone back, which would be of significantly more interest given the testimony in this case.”
Prosecutors said the FBI has not been able to open John Sisk’s phone. The defense is planning to hire an expert to try and open that way to retrieve messages.
The defense is asking the court to allow it access to the alleged murder weapon, so they can have an outside expert examine it. There are also questions about the search for the gun.
At the end of his police interview, Sisk appeared to agree to show investigators the area where he left the gun, but no body camera footage of that search has emerged. A Limestone County Sheriff’s Office investigator said he found the gun during a directed search of the area less than a mile from the Sisk family home.
As part of its argument to suppress statements Sisk gave to law enforcement, the defense told the court last week that the then 14-year-old was in Blakely’s truck for 40 minutes with no recording of any conversation.
A hearing is set for Dec. 2 on the defense’s motion to bar statements Sisk made to investigators from being included in the next trial.