The six man, six woman jury deliberated only four hours Jan. 16 in the case of Robert Louis Silva, Jr. before telling San Diego Superior Court Judge Carolyn Caietti they were hopelessly deadlocked.
Jurors told the judge nine people voted to acquit Silva, while three others voted to convict him of the felony charge of discharging a laser at an occupied aircraft. Caietti declared a mistrial.
The incident occurred March 20, 2018. The pilot of a police ABLE helicopter notified other officers that someone shined a purple laser beam into the cockpit at 10:30 p.m. for about a minute.
Caietti ordered Silva, 33, to return to court later in Jan. to schedule future court dates for a possible re-trial. Silva remains free on $25,000 bond.
Deputy District Attorney Michael Reilly said afterwards no decision has yet been made as to have a second trial for Silva, who has pleaded not guilty.
Silva testified Jan. 15, telling the jury he was at Fiesta Island by himself and thought the police helicopter was actually a drone that belonged to a friend. Silva said it was a game he was playing with a friend, but that he stopped discharging the laser when the helicopter got closer and he realized it was a helicopter.
In his closing argument, Reilly said the helicopter was 41 feet long, 10 feet high, and eight feet wide. The helicopter was struck while it was flying over North Park and Hillcrest, approximately four miles from Fiesta Island, and was 1,500 feet in the air, said Reilly.
Reilly estimated the drone object Silva referred to was approximately 18 inches long, six inches high, and would be less than 100 feet in the air.
"He knew what he was doing. It was intentional," argued Reilly. "He didn't think he'd get found."
Silva's attorney, Angela Turner, told jurors they could not convict Silva unless they concluded that he acted with "malicious intent" to harm someone. Intent was the key to a verdict, she said.
"He didn't think it was a helicopter," said Turner, telling jurors Silva that it was only "a game he was playing with his friend" who operated a drone.
"It's 10:30 at night and pitch black (at Fiesta Island)," said Turner, who said the helicopter was four miles away when struck and much smaller than a helicopter would normally look close up.
Turner said "he profusely and repeatedly apologized" to police officers at the scene. She said Silva told arresting officers that he thought the object was a drone that belonged to his friend, but no one went to look for anyone else in the area.
Officer Ryan Welch, a tactical flight operator aboard the helicopter, testified the laser caused "irritation in the eyes" and the pilot donned night vision goggles. He described it as "a purple haze coming over the aircraft."