Monday, January 29, 2007

Monday, January 29: Jury Selection

When jury selection proceedings finally got rolling at about 9:50 a.m. Monday for the wanton murder trial of Burgess Harrison Yonts, 82 potential jurors were present in the Circuit courtroom at the Calloway County judicial building. Calloway Circuit Judge Dennis Foust had increased the jury pool to 125 to ensure there would be enough suitable jurors to fill the trial's 14 necessary seats. Though 12 will ultimately decide the case, Foust said prior to juror questioning that because of the length of the trial, two alternates would also be selected and determined directly prior to the jury's decision.

The jurors were first questioned by Foust as to any prior relationship with counselors on the defense or prosecution as well as the defendant Yonts. Jurors were then questioned by Jim Harris, assistant commonwealth attorney in McCracken County and prosecutor for the state, and defense counsel Dennis Null. Throughout this process potential jurors are asked to consider any prior knowledge of the case or biases they may possess, as well as particular life experiences that may slant their opinions unfairly prior to hearing all evidence associated with the case. Specifically, jurors were asked about any personal involvement with victims of drunk driving accidents, their exposure to pre-trial publicity, personal relationships with several key witnesses, moral stances on drinking, familiarity with the geography surrounding the case and their understanding of certain stipulations of the law regarding a defendant's right to withold testimony and the concept of innocence until guilt is proven.

Harris questioned the pool first, and Null finished his questioning of the potential jurors shortly after the court returned to session from an hour-long lunch recess, around 2:15 p.m. The court recessed until 2:30, at which time 14 names were drawn from the remaining 32. The jury is comprised of three men and eleven women. Following the swearing in of the jurors, counselors requested separation of the witnesses, and all witnesses present were sequestered from the courtroom so opening statements could commence.


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