PITTSFIELD — The trial of two North Adams men accused of taking part in a 2017 assault and stabbing ended in a mistrial Wednesday before any witness testimony was aired in court.
The trial began Tuesday with opening statements from First Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Karen Bell and the attorneys for the two defendants, Ryan Peterson, 29, and Keith Larrabee, 24.
But late in the proceedings Tuesday, an issue came to light that created a conflict for the two attorneys representing Peterson — Ryan Smith and Nathaniel Green — who were then forced to withdraw from the case.
With the trial already underway and Peterson left without counsel, Judge John Agostini allowed a defense's motion to declare a mistrial.
"This is a textbook example of `justice delayed is justice denied,'" said Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.
"Defense counsel had two and a half years to investigate but waited until the 11th hour and uncovered an alleged conflict of interest on their end in the middle of the trial," she said. "This delay by defense counsel is unfair to the victims waiting for justice, unfair to the taxpayers, and unfair to the public who expect timeliness in their justice system."
Larrabee's attorney, Joshua Hochberg, objected to the motion for a mistrial, noting the conflict apparently does not involve his client.
Peterson and Larrabee have been accused of approaching the victim about 11:30 p.m. Aug. 24, 2017, on East Quincy Street in North Adams.
Prosecutors have alleged that Larrabee punched the then-42-year-old victim in the head, and that Peterson then attacked the man with a knife during the ensuing fight between the three.
The new information expanded some aspects of the investigation and presented a conflict that would prohibit both attorneys from continuing to represent Peterson.
An affidavit containing the details of the conflict was presented to Agostini and then placed under seal. The nature of the conflict was not revealed, but, it appears to be related to the potential presence of a different suspect.
In his opening statement Tuesday, Smith said his client was the victim of a mistaken identification.
Agostini acknowledged the "incredible frustration" on his part and on that of the DA's Office about the way the case had been handled and that this kind of information wasn't uncovered during the long period before the case went to trial.
In a statement released Friday, the Committee for Public Counsel Services responded to concerns expressed by the judge and DA.
“Our in-trial investigation revealed a conflict we could not have anticipated," said Nathaniel Green, the attorney in charge of the CPCS Pittsfield Trial Unit. "We work hard to provide the best possible representation, and any delay that our advocacy caused in this case was neither intentional, nor foreseeable.”
Peterson has pleaded not guilty to charges of mayhem, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury and assault to murder. Larrabee has pleaded not guilty to one count of assault and battery.
Bell said the state still intends to take the two cases to trial. If the two men can't be tried together, then the state's plans to try Peterson first.
A hearing to assign new legal counsel to Peterson's case was set for Jan. 15.
Once a new lawyer is appointed, it could be several months before Peterson's case is once again ready for trial, while that attorney gets up to speed.
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.
This story has been amended to add comments from the Committee for Public Counsel services.