The first jury trial in Bulloch County Superior Court in more than a year recently ended in a mistrial when jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict on the single charge in the indictment.
Tattoo artist Danny Joe Saldano, of an Ash Branch Church Road, Pembroke address and now age 36 or 37, had been indicted in September 2019 with a charge of aggravated sexual battery, for allegedly sexually penetrating a woman with his fingers while tattooing her thighs. As documented in the Statesboro Police Department’s arrest warrant, this was reported to have occurred at Got Ink Tattoo Studio on South Zetterower Avenue in late August 2019.
Police in a news release at that time said the incident had been “partially recorded” on a cellphone by a friend of the victim. Saldano was booked into the Bulloch County Jail on Aug. 29, 2019.
By spring 2020, the case was headed to trial, and a jury was selected March 4, 2020. But a trial slated for two weeks later was effectively cancelled by Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton’s pandemic emergency declaration of March 14, 2020.
After extending a prohibition on jury proceedings for most of a year, Melton allowed county and circuit judges to resume jury trials where plans had been put in place for social distancing and other COVID-19 prevention measures.
A Bulloch County Superior Court jury selection, potentially for multiple cases approaching trial, convened March 15, 2021, and the Saldano case was slated for trial March 23-26 before a jury and Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Chief Judge F. Gates Peed. The Statesboro Herald did not have a reporter at the trial but learned the outcome from court officials and documents.
Can be retried
The trial lasted those four days. The jury reportedly was sent into deliberations midafternoon Thursday, March 25, and resumed the next day. But a mistrial was declared later Friday, March 26.
Contacted this week, Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Daphne Totten said the state will bring Saldano to trial again on this charge. Totten declined to comment further on the case or the mistrial.
Saldano’s defense attorney, Elmer H. Young III of Evans, Georgia, said that the last he heard was that the 12 jurors had split “about seven to five” but he did not know which way the split went. Beyond that, he said he thought it would be inappropriate to comment on the case, but he did offer some observations about the pandemic-protected jury trial and how it was done.
“An awful lot of people went to an awful lot of trouble to bring back jury trials and the benefits that come to everybody by having an active jury criminal justice system actually working after having been shut down for essentially a year,” Young said. “So I was pleased to see all of the effort that went into it.”
Instead of one of the regular courtrooms at the Bulloch County Judicial Annex, the larger, downstairs jury deliberation room was set up as a socially distanced courtroom. One drawback Young saw, he said, was the relative distance between the attorneys, witnesses and jurors. Face coverings were also worn by most participants.
He had heard that there may be some changes for trials in the near future since everyone learned from the process.
“But I think that all in all we did the best that we could under the circumstances and the facilities that were available,” Young said.
He remains Saldano’s attorney for that case but said a public defender may be representing him in another case the reporter asked about.
Court records show that Saldano also faces other sex crime charges with a different alleged victim. In fact, when the February-term Bulloch County grand jury was called back to consider additional cases Tuesday, it true-billed an indictment charging Danny Joe Saldano and his brother, Vincent Anthony Saldano, now age 35 or 36 and with an Emanuel Barrow Road, Claxton, address at the time of his arrest, with one count each of aggravated sexual battery, aggravated sodomy and rape stemming from a late-October 2017 incident.
This new indictment describes the two men as charged “individually and as parties concerned in the commission of a crime.” It does not state a location of the incident and alleges penetration with fingers in relation to the aggravated sexual battery charge but other acts against a woman – not the same victim as in the case just brought to a mistrial – in the aggravated sodomy and rape charges.
An indictment is not an indication of guilt but is instead a grand jury’s determination, based on a presentation by prosecutors, that enough evidence exists to bring specific charges to trial.
Previously, Vincent Saldano had been indicted Nov. 5, 2019 on one count of rape in connection with the October 2017 allegation. He was arrested on a bench warrant soon after the November 2019 indictment. The court record also shows a previous Sept. 25, 2019, aggravated sexual battery indictment against Danny Saldano for this incident.
He had a record of prior arrests and a conviction more than a decade ago on drug distribution charges. A Statesboro police source said both men remain in jail, having been denied bond.
Anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse or has knowledge of any such incident is advised to contact The Teal House, Statesboro Regional Sexual Assault and Child Advocacy Center, located at 209 South College Street, Statesboro, GA 30458. Its office phone number is (912) 489-6060. The 24-hour crisis line is 1-866-489-2225.