Hung jury results in mistrial for local contractor accused of stealing equipment
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IDAHO FALLS — A jury was unable to reach a decision in the case of an Idaho Falls contractor accused of stealing a skid-steer loader from a local business.
The trial for Ryan Hilliard, the owner of Idaho Falls-based Ultimate Construction, began Monday with closing arguments on Wednesday. The jury spent most of Wednesday afternoon and evening deliberating and a good portion of Thursday morning before telling the judge they could not reach a verdict.
As a result, District Judge Bruce Pickett declared a mistrial.
The trial revolved around a stolen Caterpillar Model 289C skid-steer valued between $25,000 and $30,000. Hilliard said he bought the vehicle from one of his employees in October 2018, and didn’t know it was stolen until he found out in May.
The employee, who has not been charged with a crime, said Hilliard told him to go pick up the skid-steer from Idaho Falls company Bybee Excavation.
Hilliard was arrested in August.
“Each side feels wronged,” Defense Attorney Jason Gustaves said.
During the trial, Prosecuting Attorney Alex Muir said the case is about what the defendant knew and when he knew it.
Bybee Excavation reported the crime occurred on Oct. 22, 2018. Police discovered the property was in Hilliard’s possession on May 3, 2019.
Gustaves asserts the detective working the case didn’t believe Hilliard’s side of the story partly because he’s on parole for a controlled substance charge out of Twin Falls County.
Hilliard asserts a bill of sale was created Oct. 26, 2018, which proves the purchase, but that information wasn’t told to detectives initially.
“You have a bill of sale, that’s something you tell a police officer or detective when they are questioning you about it,” Muir said.
The employee told the court he never saw a bill of sale exhibit until Sunday (the day before the trial started). He said the signature on the paper is not his and appears forged. It was compared to his signatures on his driver’s license, a check he endorsed and the signature he provided to the prosecution — those three didn’t match the bill of sale signature. However, Gustaves argued that an individual wouldn’t provide their proper signature when doing something wrong.
He said the employee needed money because he continually got advances on paychecks, had loans, owed money to family, has kids and his wife needs medical treatment.
Gustaves also said the employee went to the excavation site three times with two different trailers, loaded the skid-steer in 40 seconds, didn’t strap down the equipment then got a flat tire, looked at it and drove off.
“What about any of that sounds like a man who doesn’t know he is doing something dirty?”
There were also large financial transactions made from Hilliard to the employee in the amount of $10,000 cash on Oct. 30, 2018, and then Nov. 5, 2018, of $5,000 cash. Gustaves said Hilliard agreed to buy the skid-steer from the employee for $24,000 and arranged to make installment payments on it.
Muir asserted that two payments in such a short time doesn’t sound like installment payments.
“Sounds suspicious to me,” he said.
Despite the arguments by both the prosecution and defense, the jury wasn’t fully persuaded either way. Since the trial resulted in a hung jury, prosecutors plan to bring the case to court again in the near future. A pre-trial conference has been scheduled for Jan. 28, 2020, and a jury trial is set for Feb. 10, 2020.