Murder Conviction Overturned By Court -- Court Of Appeals Rules Jury Action Prejudiced Trial

A Renton man whose first-degree attempted-murder conviction ended one of King County Superior Court's most bizarre trials must be retried because the jury improperly re-enacted his version of the shooting, the state Court of Appeals has ruled.

Jerry Bibb Balisok, 37, whose true identity wasn't known until after his 1990 conviction, was sentenced to 20 years for shooting an alleged conspirator in an arson plot near Tiger Mountain in east King County on Sept. 5, 1989.

King County prosecutors said Balisok lived under the alias of "Ricky Wetta" for 12 years to elude fraud indictments in Alabama. He once performed as a professional wrestler called "Mr. X" and was thought by his mother to be a Jonestown mass-suicide victim.

But Justices William Baker and Faye Kennedy ruled Balisok's trial was prejudiced by the deliberations-room re-enactment of the Tiger Mountain crime. He was unable to rebut what amounted to new evidence discovered in the jury room, they said.

Balisok, who was tried as "John Doe," took the stand but refused to answer questions about his identity.

He said he and Emmett Thompson of Bellevue were target-shooting on Tiger Mountain near Issaquah when Thompson, a much smaller man, jumped him. Balisok, who weighed 300 pounds, admitted shooting Thompson four times in the back of the head but claimed it was self-defense.

He demonstrated for the jury how he and Thompson allegedly wrestled and how the bullets lodged in the back of Thompson's head. The jury did its own re-enactments during its deliberation and concluded Balisok's story was impossible.

Appeals Court Justice Marshall Forrest dissented, saying the re-enactment didn't violate any of the trial judge's instructions and was a good-faith effort to analyze evidence.

Deputy Prosecutor Michael Hogan, who tried the case, said prosecutors will either appeal to the state Supreme Court or hold a new trial for Balisok.

At the 1990 trial, Hogan contended Balisok paid $5,000 for an abandoned Wenatchee hotel, then burned it to collect about $3 million in insurance. Thompson allegedly was a potential witness against him at his federal arson trial. Balisok has since been acquitted of those charges.

King County police Detective Randy Mullinax learned Balisok's real name sometime after the trial and that he had been owner of motorcycle shop in Alabama. He apparently took the assumed name in 1978 when he was indicted on 13 counts of fraud. Balisok apparently was unaware authorities dropped the indictments in 1983 and continued to live under the Wetta alias.

Balisok's mother became convinced he was killed in the Jonestown mass suicide and fought with the federal government because it wouldn't pay her insurance claim without recovery of his body.

His tombstone, resting on the family plot in Huntsville, Ala., read "Damn the State Department."