Jury deadlocks in 2019 Baker Lake murder case; mistrial declared

A Whatcom County jury was unable to determine whether or not an Arlington man killed his friend in self-defense.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Arlington in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118

By Denver Pratt / The Bellingham Herald

BELLINGHAM — A Whatcom County jury was unable to determine whether or not a Snohomish County man killed his friend in self-defense while they were camping near Baker Lake in April 2019.

A mistrial was declared late Friday, July 1, in 33-year-old Alexander Vanags’ criminal jury trial in Whatcom County Superior Court. Vanags had been on trial for second-degree murder for the April 13, 2019, death of 28-year-old Mark Stebakov of Arlington.

Vanags, of Arlington, had originally been scheduled to go to trial in March 2020, but his trial was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Vanags was later released from the Whatcom County Jail in July 2020 pending his trial after his bail was reduced from $1 million to $100,000.

After a three-week trial, the jury was sent to deliberate on the second-degree murder charge by 11 a.m. on Thursday, June 30. During deliberations, the jury asked the court several written questions, including to replay the 911 audio recordings from when Vanags called law enforcement after returning from the campsite and whether or not a person could still feel their life is in danger if they are impaired.

Shortly after 2:30 p.m. on Friday, the jury sent the court a question asking how they would move forward if they could not reach a unanimous verdict and whether there was a time-frame in which they needed to reach a verdict by, according to court records. The jurors returned to the courtroom and told the judge they felt they could not reach a verdict in a reasonable amount of time. The judge sent them back to deliberate a while longer, before the jurors were brought back in to the courtroom.

When asked by the judge whether the jurors thought they might be able to reach a verdict if they were brought back on Tuesday after the holiday weekend to continue deliberating, the jurors all agreed that they were deadlocked and couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict on the murder charge, according to court officials.

Because of the hung jury, the judge declared a mistrial late Friday afternoon.

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