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Gun Suit Deadlock Results in Mistrial

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday December 26, 2003

Jury deliberations in the multi-million dollar Beretta “unsafe pistol” trial in Alameda County Superior Court may have been closer than a 6-6 deadlock would indicate. So the father of a 15-year-old Berkeley boy accidentally shot and killed by a friend nine years ago says that his family will bring the issue back to court for a third time. 

“We came very, very close to winning,” Griffin Dix said in a telephone interview shortly after Superior Court Judge Gordon Baranco declared a mistrial after an eight-day trial and four days of jury deliberations. 

“We were able to talk to the jury afterwards,” Dix said. “The first time they voted 9-3 in our favor. But then two people were changed. One got sick and one had a babysitting problem, and couldn’t come. So other people were brought in, and that disrupted their discussions, and they had to go back to the very beginning. They lost some time and they lost some momentum.” 

A Walnut Creek-based attorney for Beretta USA of Maryland did not return telephone calls from the Daily Planet. 

Dix’s son, Kenzo, was killed in 1994 in the Berkeley home of 14-year-old Michael Soe when Soe pulled out his father’s 9mm Beretta semiautomatic pistol and shot Kenzo Dix in the chest. Soe said later that the shooting was unintentional, that he had replaced the pistol’s full magazine with an empty one, and wasn’t aware that the pistol still retained a bullet in its chamber. 

Griffin Dix and his wife, Lynn, sued Beretta, alleging that the pistol was defectively designed because it lacked an indicator that would show if a bullet was in the chamber and didn’t have devices that locked out unauthorized users. The Dix family also settled a $100,000 claim against Soe’s parents. 

Five years ago, an Alameda County civil jury ruled in favor of Beretta, but in 2000, that verdict was overturned due to jury misconduct. 

Dix blamed this week’s verdict on what he called “intransigent jurors. Some of them could only see the misuse of this gun and the way it was stored by the father. They got hung up in some language in the jury form that they had to fill out. 

“But others of them recognized that the design of the gun ultimately contributed to my son’s death. So I still think we have a good chance of winning the case. The point is to try to prevent these unintentional deaths that are caused by defective designs of guns.” 

Since his son’s death, Dix went to work for Physicians For A Violence Free Society, a San Francisco-based organization that lobbies and advocates for various violence-prevention issues. 

Dix said he’ll continue to work to have handgun manufacturers change the design of their weapons, and to ban the sale of all guns that do not have such features installed. 

“There are two research studies that say that one-fourth of unintentional shootings would be prevented if guns had chamber-loaded indicators and what’s called a magazine disconnect safety device,” Dix said. “You take out the magazine and the gun won’t fire, even if there’s a bullet still in the chamber. One-fourth of all unintentional shootings would be about 200 lives a year could be saved in the United States if we had these safety features.” 

Dix said that Beretta had designed a gun with a lock built in, but while it is being advertised by the company, it is not on the market yet. 

And he said that bad news is on the national horizon even if he wins the next round of the lawsuit. “The House of Representatives has already passed a bill, and there are 54 sponsors in the Senate that would give the gun industry a special, unique exemption from these kinds of lawsuits lawsuits. Some of them say these lawsuits are frivolous. The truth is, they really don’t want them to go in front of juries and for juries to see the facts.”