Jury deadlocks on paparazzi beating case

Defense attorney Stefan Sach (left), John Hildebrand, Skylar Peak and attorney Harland Braun after the hearing Friday. Photo by Ben Marcus

Court proceedings will resume in July.

Stan Parker / Special to The Malibu Times

The defense counsel said it was self-defense against trespassing, photo-hungry paparazzi. The prosecution said it was a case of ?”arrogance,” “violence” and “thuggery.” The jury, unable to agree on who was right, deadlocked 8-4 in favor of a not guilty verdict last week in the trial of Malibu residents Skylar Peak, 25, and Philip “John” Hildebrand, 31, who were charged with misdemeanor battery against a paparazzo.

Judge Lawrence Mira at the Malibu Superior Courthouse declared a mistrial Friday, for the second time. The first mistrial occurred after Peak’s mother was involved in a car accident in March. The court scheduled proceedings to resume in July, and it remains unclear if Deputy District Attorney Bill Penzin will ask for a new trial.

If the defendants had been convicted of the charges, they could have faced up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine each.

Closing arguments were given last week Thursday, two years after the June 2008 day when the defendants, along with a group of other beachgoers, tried to get a group of paparazzi to leave Little Dume Beach as they were attempting to take pictures of actor Matthew McConaughey surfing.

Peak and Hildebrand were charged with allegedly chasing paparazzo Rachid Aitmbareck to the ocean and beating him.

Eight women and four men served on the jury. The two alternate jurors were women.

Three jurors, who all voted not guilty, lingered outside the courthouse Friday evening, telling the defendants and their supporters what went on in the deliberation room.

Juror Tyler Coons cited juror bias as a major factor keeping the jury from reaching a unanimous verdict.

“He was biased and would not budge, since day one,” Coons said of another juror, who he called the “most vocal” of the holdouts.

Coons said the juror in question said he had been “jumped” and beat up before and claimed to know exactly what happened during the June 2008 altercation. Coons also said the majority of the jurors were unconvinced by the prosecution’s case.

During prosecutor Penzin’s summation, he made no apologies for the methods of the paparazzi, but painted a picture of Peak and Hildebrand as vigilantes.

“This case is about violence. This case is not about people taking pictures on the beach,” Penzin said.

This case is about “people who feel entitled to act any way they want because of who they are and where they live.”

Video taken the day of the fracas by paparazzo Karl Larson, 41, shows the beachgoers confronting the paparazzi and then shows Peak slapping the camcorder.

The segments also show Aitmbareck being chased to the edge of the ocean water and another paparazzo swinging a monopod at the beachgoers.

Defense attorneys Harland Braun and Stefan Sacks said the paparazzi edited the video in order to depict their clients as instigators. Larson said he did not shoot the altercation in one streaming video because he accidentally cut it on and off.

The existence of a knife drawn by another paparazzo during the scuffle was the subject of much controversy during the trial. Coons said there was little doubt in the deliberation room that a knife had been drawn. However, some expressed doubt about its existence.

“It is inexcusable that a paparazzo pulled a knife,” Hildebrand’s defense attorney Harland Braun said in his closing.

“But he,” Braun said, pointing at Penzin, “won’t admit that.”

Coons also said that after scrutinizing one segment of video where the prosecution claimed Hildebrand was kicking Aitmbareck in the face, he and most of the other jurors believed Hildebrand was not making contact with the paparazzo’s face-just splashing water-as Hildebrand had claimed in his testimony.

Ready to leave the lengthy legal proceedings behind him, one of the defendants could be heard saying to the bailiff at the close of Friday’s proceedings, “No offense, but I hope I never see the inside of this courtroom ever again.”