Juror fined in Hot Springs for researching victim during murder trial

HOT SPRINGS -- A former juror was found to be in contempt of court Wednesday and ordered to pay $4,350 in fines and restitution after a hearing before Circuit Court Judge Marcia Hearnsberger.

Katrina Robertson, a juror in the murder trial of Elizabeth Hageness, was found to have violated the rules of court after researching the victim and making statements to other jurors during deliberation. She was ordered to pay the maximum fine of $500 and $3,850 in restitution, the costs accrued by the state for the jury for the four-day trial.

Rebekah Morris, the juror who reported Robertson's misconduct, was questioned by Robertson's attorney, Tylar Tapp, asking why she did not report the incident the day of the trial. Morris said she felt the jury might think she was "tattling."

"I should have done it, and I regret not doing it," she said.

Robertson testified that she researched the victim, Brian Paul Hageness, on Court Connect, the state's online public access portal for courts.

"The case left me with a lot of questions," she said, noting that looking into the victim seemed to be "a loophole."

Robertson also said she reached out to Judge Ralph Ohm, the sitting judge for the trial, as well as to attorneys for both the prosecution and defense after the trial because she had "so many unanswered questions" about the trial.

After starting to cry on the stand, Robertson said, "It had tormented my soul that I caused an undue burden to the state" and the misconduct allegations caused her to have to take medicine and cost her "financially and to her mental and emotional health."

Garland County Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Lawrence asked Robertson to look at Hageness, who was in the courtroom for the hearing with her attorney, Jonathan Huber.

"Did she not get a fair jury by her peers? Did you follow the rules?" Lawrence asked.

"In my mind, I did at the time," Robertson replied. "I didn't think looking up the victim would be that big a deal."

Robertson said she "felt as a jury we should have access to all the information if we are tasked with having to determine another person's guilt or innocence."

Hearnsberger asked Robertson to clarify her thoughts about following the rules issued by the court, and Robertson replied, "I guess I'm a bad jury member."

Hearnsberger then posed a hypothetical situation.

"If I shoot at someone and don't hit them, I didn't do anything wrong," she said. "That's what you're saying. ... You said that you only think now that you did something wrong. Do you not think that you did anything wrong at the time?"

"I accept responsibility that I did [something wrong]," Robertson replied.

Hearnsberger asked if she knew that she did something wrong at the time.

"I guess because I said that I was looking for a loophole," Robertson replied.

Hageness, who was convicted of second-degree murder on April 14 in the 2019 shooting death of her husband and sentenced to 20 years in prison, will go to trial again after a mistrial was declared during a May 11 hearing.