The owner of the now-defunct 509 Fitness gym was acquitted Wednesday of two counts of theft connected to a $19.60 "gym enhancement fee" he charged members last year.
A Benton County Superior Court jury returned the two "not guilty" verdicts against Jason Ray Sleater on the first-degree theft charge and one count of second-degree theft.
"He's just extremely relieved," said his defense attorney Scott Johnson. "It was very stressful for him."
Jurors, however, deadlocked on the remaining six counts of second-degree theft after about 1 1/2 days of deliberation, causing Judge Bruce Spanner to declare a mistrial on those counts.
Deputy Prosecutor Terry Bloor said he still is considering whether to retry those charges.
"I'm disappointed that (the jurors) were not able to come to a complete conclusion and disappointed in the two not guilty verdicts," Bloor told the Herald.
But, he said he appreciated the jury's attention and effort during the trial.
Johnson also said it was clear by the number of questions about the law that the jury worked hard on the case and "looked at everything really, really close."
Sleater, 35, was accused of pocketing money from his members when he charged the enhancement fee allegedly without authorization about a month before the Kennewick gym abruptly shut down.
The first-degree theft charge alleged Sleater received more then $5,000 from his actions and covered all the members who had to pay the fee -- even though the majority did not complain or file a protest with their debit or credit card companies.
Johnson tried Monday to get that charge dismissed after the state rested its case, saying there was no proof that any members thought the charge was unauthorized beyond the fewer than a dozen members interviewed during the investigation.
After Sleater, who now lives in Spokane, was charged in January, Johnson made several attempts to get the case tossed before the trial. He said he thinks there were a combination of things that led jurors to the acquittal.
"First and foremost, this is a civil dispute. It only became criminal when the (Kennewick police) detective became involved," Johnson said. "Between the contract and the police aspect, I think the jury just wasn't going to find him guilty."
Sleater's defense centered around one of the victims, police Detective Bill Dramis, who confronted Sleater about the fee and got kicked off gym property. Johnson said criminal charges were filed only after Dramis stirred the pot in his department because he wanted revenge.
The seven second-degree theft charges were connected to seven specific victims and alleged Sleater intentionally deprived the victims of an access device. The charges were identical, except for the victim named in each count.
It wasn't clear why the jury was able to reach a decision on one count, but deadlocked on the rest.
Sleater will be back in court Sept. 20, when Bloor said he probably will reset a trial date on the six counts that weren't resolved, and then he'll make a decision later on whether to continue the case.
Johnson said the state has 90 days from the mistrial to retry the case.
"I would be shocked if they wanted to go back to trial for the other counts. ... The jury has already found him not guilty on the one count," he said. "The jury has clearly spoken."
-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org