A Colorado judge declared a mistrial today after the jury was deadlocked in the case of a Colorado man accused of killing a mother of three who moonlighted as an escort.
Lester Jones, 65, was arrested in 2014 and charged with first and second degree murder, arson and kidnapping for the death of Paige Birgfeld, who went missing in 2007. Jones, who had been one of Birgfeld’s clients, had pleaded not guilty.
The Mesa County, Colorado, jury made up of nine men and three women got the case on Tuesday in the trial’s sixth week. Unable to unanimously reach a verdict by Friday afternoon after three and a half days of deliberations, the judge declared a mistrial. Jones showed no emotion as the decision was announced.
Five of the 12 jurors spoke to ABC News after the trial and said in the end, nine were in favor of "guilty" and three were in favor of "not guilty."
"Nobody in their minds didn’t think that he wasn't doing something wrong... but couldn’t get past the 'reasonable doubt,'" said juror Bobbi Sanabria, who said she was leaning towards not guilty. "There were just too many holes in the scenario that played out... [but] nobody wanted it to be this outcome."
The jurors said at times deliberations became "very passionate." Foreman Lance Erdmann, who said he was in favor of a guilty verdict, said a lot of the jurors were "on the fence" because they thought much of the evidence was "circumstantial." "We gave it a valiant effort for sure," he said.
Juror William Sullivan, who was in favor of a guilty verdict, said, "I hope they try it again hopefully there will be a better outcome."
"It just doesn’t add up," he added. "Nobody has that bad of luck in one week."
Prosecutors asked for a week to determine a date for a new trial.
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Paige Birgfeld, a 34-year-old twice divorcee, had been working odd jobs to make ends meet, from selling Pampered Chef products to teaching dance classes for toddlers, while raising her three kids when she disappeared on June 28, 2007.
But police later discovered she secretly lived a double life as a high-priced escort, who used the fake name “Carrie” and ran a side business called “Models Inc." for erotic massages.
A few days after her family realized she was missing, Birgfeld’s red Ford Focus was found on fire in a parking lot two miles from her Grand Junction home. Investigators noticed the driver’s side seat had been pushed all the way back, further away from the pedals than someone of Birgfeld’s size could reach.
Investigators were also able to recover Birgfeld’s day planner from the car and discovered pages from the past four days had been ripped out.
The fire was ruled arson, but her body was nowhere to be found.
Authorities questioned both of Birgfeld’s ex-husbands, Rob Dixon, an emergency technician who came from a wealthy family, and Ron Beigler, who was with Birgfeld hours before she was discovered missing and was the last known person to see her alive.
Both were cleared of suspicion after cell phone records proved they had been hundreds of miles away from Birgfled when she went missing. Beigler testified in court that he had begged her to give up her escort service the day she disappeared.
“A major complication in the case was the fact that there’s such a large number of alternative suspects who have to be eliminated by virtue of what she did for a living,” said former Mesa County district attorney Pete Hautzinger.
As authorities started looking into Birgfeld’s clients, they learned she had received dozens of calls from men seeking her services around the time she disappeared. One of those clients was Lester Jones, a convicted felon and local RV mechanic who was married at the time, so police brought him in for questioning. During his interrogation, investigators discovered he had hired Birgfeld for a $400 erotic massage a year earlier and he had made an appointment to see her the day before she went missing. Worried that Jones had figured out her true identity, Birgfeld's close friend Carol Linderholm told "20/20" that Birgfeld sent her to meet Jones instead.
Police interrogated Jones twice, for almost eight hours in total, without an attorney. When police searched Jones’ home and RV workshop, they found Viagra, condoms, a black bra and a gasoline can. In the trash, they discovered packaging for a disposable phone, which Jones claimed didn't belong to him.
Jones was named as a suspect but the prosecutor were reluctant to press charges at the time without a body. The case went cold for five years until March 2012 when a hiker discovered skeletal remains in a gulch that were later identified as Paige Birgfeld.
In November 2014, Jones was arrested and charged with the murder and kidnapping of Paige Birgfeld.
At trial, which began on July 25, 2016, prosecutors claimed that Jones killed and kidnapped Birgfeld, drove her car down Highway 50 and dumped her body in the gulch, then drove her car back to Grand Junction, where he later set it on fire. Prosecutors had originally also charged Jones with arson, but the charge was later dropped because the statute of limitations on the crime had expired.
Prosecutors called 80 witnesses to the stand, including Birgfeld’s ex-husband Ron Beigler, her mother, her father and her 17-year-old daughter Jess, as well as forensic experts, hikers and former call girls.
Jones’ ex-wife Lisa Nance, the prosecution’s star witness, testified that in the late ‘90s, Jones kidnapped her at gunpoint and threatened to kill her. She escaped and Jones served five years in prison.
Jones’ defense attorney argued their client was innocent and that Birgfeld had numerous male clients with motives to kill her. One such client, they pointed out, was a man who had been waiting for Birgfeld in a hotel room the night she disappeared. Another client the defense named testified that he had joked at one point that he knew how he would have gotten rid of her body. All the former clients who testified denied killing Birgfeld.
Wearing wire-rimmed glasses, Jones has mostly sat in silence throughout the trial, at times leaning over to talk to his attorney. At one point, when his current wife took the stand in his defense he mouthed to her, “It wasn’t me.”
After the mistrial was announced, Paige Birgfeld's father Frank Birgfeld said, "We’ll see if there's another trial or not. I'll say this there will be a resolution. You didn’t hear a 'not guilty' there."